Govt raises Aakash ceiling: ‘Better’ tablet now for $50

Revising its ambitions, and with it the price tag of the much-discussed and dissected Aakash tablet, the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is now looking at a $50 tablet with upgraded specifications, including a "capacitive" touch screen display.

The ministry had so far been insisting on a $35 price tag but has now decided to revise the upper ceiling to $50 for the new version, tentatively called Aakash 2.

A proposal to manufacture the $35 Aakash tablet and the $50 Aakash 2 together is also under consideration, with a "resistive" touchscreen in the former and a capacitive one for the latter. Capacitive touchscreens work by sensing skin contact through a touching action, while "resistive" need a precise tapping action and hence work best with stylus.

"It has been decided that we can go up to $50 for Aakash 2, which will come with a capacitive screen besides a faster processor and other features. However, under no circumstances will we go beyond $50," said a highly placed official.

The government's tablet project has been the subject of numerous controversies with IIT-Jodhpur and Canadian firm Datawind that manufactured the device involved in conflicts over technical specifications. The Indian Express was the first to report the turf war, more specifically the IIT calling for military-style specifications in the Aakash tablet. The ministry had to intervene repeatedly to sort out the mess, and it has now decided to start afresh with Aakash 2.

Aakash was developed following a six-year project, with a Rs 4,772-lakh contract given to IIT-Jodhpur for a "low-cost access-cum-computing device". IIT-Jodhpur's role was limited to procuring and testing around 100,000 devices sourced through Datawind.

Junking this partnership now, HRD will in April invite bids for 5 million tablets. It will also then hand over the the Aakash project largely to the Department of Information Technology. A committee headed by Secretary, IT, R Chandrashekhar and with IIT directors and other stakeholders on board has already started working to take the Aakash 2 forward.

"IT and this committee will now on largely handhold Aakash 2 tablet. After the IIT-Jodhpur experience, it is amply clear that IITs are incapable of handling a project like this and specially the distribution part," sources said.

ITI, C-DAC and BEL will be involved in the distribution of the tablet and attempts will be made to ensure that Aakash 2 remains a largely 'Made in India' product.

Keen to remain a partner for Aakash 2 as well, Datawind is learnt to have offered upgraded specifications for the tablet in its second version at the same price of $35.

"We've made a proposal to the ministry to provide upgraded specifications at the same price as the current product," Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO Datawind, told The Indian Express over email. "The ministry and the GOI (government of India) have a commendable vision, and have acted throughout this process in an honourable manner. The motivation by IIT-Jodhpur to impose military specification a year after the tender closed is not for us to comment on."

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