For several years now, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), an organization founded by Nicholas Negroponte, has been delivering laptops to poor, rural children in developing countries. His idea was that if you could give a laptop to a child, along with the power to run it and access to the internet or to sufficient offline materials, that child could learn anything. In village after village this idea has been proven to be correct. OLPC has worked with school systems and governments to get the laptops in the hands of the kids, and loaded with what they need to learn. By 2009 critics were calling that program a failure. But it never pays to judge a new technology idea too quickly. A quick stroll through their slide show, or a quick read of their blog, will give you an idea of how successful they have actually been.
The key to this program was getting a laptop built cheaply enough. OLPC managed to design and build one for under $100. I remember how impressed I was by that number when they first suggested it. Crazy! And yet they pulled it off.
Suneet Tuli responded to an even more ambitious idea. The Indian government wanted to get a tablet computer into the hands of every single child in India, for as little money as possible. The project was put under the charge of IIT, India’s premier engineering college. They are the ones who found Tuli’s company, Datawind, in Canada. Datawind has been working on the project since 2009. Their first attempts were also written off as pretty much a total failure. But, like OLPC, their persistence, and a new project head in India, has finally started to pay off. The second generation of the tablet, the Aakash 2, has been getting good reviews so far.
The tablet computers they are making cost a mere $40. Since the government is subsidizing half the cost, these tablets are costing school systems in India a mere $20 apiece. In some cases the government is giving the laptops to school children for free. Within 3 years they will recoup the investment by replacing paper textbooks with ebooks on the devices.
No one, at this point, is assuming that a $40 tablet from India is going to replace, say, the iPad. But who knows? This is exactly the sort of innovation that drives big changes in the market. There is a commercial version of the Aakash 2, which sells for around $60.
Would you buy a tablet PC for $40 if it was available?