curiosity

US$35 Tablet for India: would it go the Nano way?


The Auto exposition held in 2008 at the New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan exhibition grounds, became famous all over the world, when India’s premier auto manufacturing company, Tata motors, displayed for the first time a car, which they claimed would be the cheapest car in the world. At a targeted price of 100,000 Rupees or about 2000 Dollars, prototype of Nano car was a world shocker. The company actually kept its promise and started deliveries of the car at targeted price in 2009. Considering the price, any comparison of this car with any other similar product, immediately brings out the fact that Nano is a far superior product. Even today, when this car has become a household name, looks of this car are so attractive that an odd car parked on the road, still draws the attention of the onlookers.

Still, the company manufacturing this car, finds itself in a predicament today. The sales of this car have not been growing as expected by the company and also the people. In the initial periods there have been some mishaps like wiring of the car going up into flames. However company sorted these problems soon and no major hitch or technical problem has been reported later. Yet, why the sales of this car are not growing as per expectation, is a real brain teaser.

Last week, a federal minister of India, in charge of education ministry, has come out with an announcement, which is again a shocker though on a smaller scale. He started that day, the distribution of world’s cheapest Tablet computer, named as ‘Aakash’, at a price of about US$ 35 to student community of India by handing over first 500 units to school students in New Delhi. According to the manufacturer of this product; ‘Datawind’ , this tablet would be available for anyone in the open market at a slightly higher price of about US$ 55 only.

Anyone is likely to be suspicious about the truth behind this news. Just two years back, Apple Inc. of USA announced its first Tablet computer ‘ipad’ at a price, eight to ten times the price of this new tablet. The ‘ipad’ tablet computer is marketed in India today, around US$500 to US$600 per unit. Even at this price, this computer has created ripples all over the world. Since the new tablet computer announced in India is in the same class, its price somehow seems just unbelievable.

I initially thought that the specifications of this new tablet would be able shade some light on this apparent anomaly. Its true that the specifications of any high priced Tablet computer available in the world market today are far superior to the modest claims of this new Tablet. However in spite of being modest, this computer is not a toy. This 7 inch tablet weights just 350 Grams. It operates on Android 2.2 with central processing unit clock frequency of 366 MHz. The RAM capacity is 256 MB and it incorporates a video co-processor. Obviously this tablet many not do justice to HD videos, yet the specs appear at least to me quite impressive, considering the price.

The connectivity to internet is possible either through a Wi-Fi signal or through a 2G or 3G mobile SIM card. The surfing is done by the Tablet’s own browser, called UBIsurfer. What has impressed me most is the ability of this device to read straightway all .doc or .pdf files. This along with its size and weight would make this computer, an ideal device for reading e-books.

I checked the web-site of the manufacturers of this device ‘Datawind”. It turned out that they do manufacture similar devices though priced little higher and seem to have enough expertise to make low end tablets. The new tablet would be made available to consumers in India in November 2011, under a brand name called as “UBSlate’.

After checking out the specs of this device, I could understand important design philosophies kept by the designers of this device before them. Firstly this device has been principally designed for consumers like students, who do not need a top end system. The memory as well as speed of this device are limited and even though the manufacturers claim to have loaded the device with many top end features, it seems that it is really best suited for certain applications only. There is absolutely no point in comparing this device with a top end product like ‘ipad’.

With this comparison at back of my mind, I cannot yet avoid comparing launch of this device with launch of the world’s cheapest car Nano. Manufacturers of Nano, also had claimed to have all features of much more expensive car in their product. Yet, I am afraid, that exactly for the same reasons for which Nano sales are stagnating, this new Tablet sales, also are likely to suffer. Nano car was basically designed for the motor cycle users, who aspire to upgrade themselves to a car. But on extremely crowded streets of India’s towns, finding your way around is far cheaper and easier on a motor cycle than in a Nano. The targeted two wheeler buyer therefore stayed on with his motor cycle instead of upgrading himself to a four wheeler and get into potentially horrific traffic jams on Indian roads, which he avoids on his motor cycle to a great extent. If that is the situation, then who is buying Nano? The families already owning 2 or 3 cars are going in for an additional Nano, for running errands and quick shopping trips to nearby destinations.

The Nano fiasco, highlights another interesting aspect of human nature. Most of the people do not like to own cheaper things. They have a feeling that they would be looked down by others if seen owning cheaper stuff. Five or ten year’s back, most of the people in India preferred small compact hatchbacks. Today in spite of the impossible chaos and jams on the roads and total lack of parking places, the trend is clearly for big three box cars. According to my mind, this is one of the principle reasons for the consumer resistance shown to Nano car.

I am afraid that this peer pressure effect may also affect the sale of this new ultra cheap tablet later on, once the initial euphoria is over. For most of the consumers, the specs of this Tablet appear quite adequate. Even then, I am afraid, they may not be willing to buy such a product, available at a much lower cost and get looked down by others.

In any case, I have decided to buy this new tablet. I am sure that it would help me in fulfilling my dream of reading e-books, while relaxing on an easy-chair.

11 October 2011

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About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “US$35 Tablet for India: would it go the Nano way?

  1. “They have a feeling that they would be looked down by others if seen owning cheaper stuff. ”

    This is true, unfortunate, but true. Even if they can’t afford, they want to show off. That is human nature.

    If there is substantial business in education field, they will sell. Businesses may realize that for their business needs, that small tablet is good enough. In business you want to use what you need, not what you want. Only individuals buy expensive things, whether they need it or not.

    As far Nano, safety issue, power, acceleration etc. matter. With more people buying bigger cars and highway traffic becoming common, safety is an issue. . Then there is power. If you have to shut down A/C while climbing the road from Mumbai to Pune, on a very hot day, it’s an inconvenience. You need power for highway driving to accelerate faster, longer.

    Of course, in US, most people own two or three cars, so small cars sell, and large cars too. When India reaches that stage, then everything will sell.

    Posted by Anand | October 11, 2011, 7:18 pm
    • Anand-
      You raise and interesting point about the businesses. A tablet computer is not particularly useful in businesses. At least that is what I feel. Tablets are more useful to individuals. This again brings out the similarity between these two products. No one would use Nano for transportation business or even for long distance traveling. It is designed for commuting within a city. That is where the manufacturers hoped to sell the car. They have not been able to enthuse the people about the product. I am afraid that something similar may happen to this tablet.

      Posted by chandrashekhara | October 12, 2011, 3:06 pm
  2. Apart from the Aspirational & Efficiency issues, there is an issue of affordability. Most 2 Wheeler users borrow upto 80% of the Acquisition Cost which may be between Rs.35-55000/-. Now the user typically earns on an average Rs.10-15000/- which means the cost of the 2 wheeler is approximately 3 times his monthly earnings.In case of Nano the economics goes ballistic rising to maybe 8-10 times the monthly earning. Considering that the ability to save at this level of existence is at the very best marginal, it may be one of the reasons for this target consumer not upgrading to a 4 wheeler inspite of its obvious benefits.And we must bear in mind that this is a ‘Forced Buy’ since there simply do not exist cheap & convenient alternatives modes of mass transport in India.
    In contrast ‘Akaash’ is intriguing & may not suffer the same market reception on account of the dynamics of the handheld devices market. And the Price too would be around a third of a month’s wages for the vast majority of India’s earners.If the success of Mobile Handsets and the frequency of replacement is nay indication the Product might get volumes subject to a minimum standard of Quality & Features.

    Posted by Vivek | October 14, 2011, 10:17 pm
    • Vivek
      I agree with you that on the issue of affordability, Nano car and Tablet computer are not comparable at all and each product shall have dynamics of its own. The question I am trying to pose in my article is whether this computer, even when affordable, would be bought by the people or they would rather run for more expensive models, which they really do not need.

      Posted by chandrashekhara | October 15, 2011, 2:01 pm

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