datawind aakash

The sky is usually the limit, but the Aakash (Hindi for “sky”) is only the beginning of leapfrog tablet technology.

Though the “tablet industry” is currently synonymous with “iPad”, there are a number of game-changers emerging. Amazon, one of the few companies that competes with Apple among a specific demographic of tech consumers, recently released the Kindle Fire, a fully functional Android-based tablet. Costing a competitive $199 when compared to the iPad’s $499 price tag, it offers a dual core processor, vivid display, and focuses on excelling at the primary content-based functions of an iPad (music, video, books, magazines). For a machine designed to compete directly with the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (a $250 device that is only a true tablet if one knows how to root/flash/mod it), it is an intriguing (if not surprising — Amazon is traditionally heavy-hitter due to expansive content) competitor in the general tablet market.

(Note – I’ve left out the HP Touchpad because of discontinuation, but the fire sale from a few months ago, along with the always impressive Cyanogenmod development team’s Alpha release of their open OS on the device, may have residual impact on the tablet world. I’ve also left off others, such as the Blackberry Playbook and a host of various Android tablets because they’ve failed to make a major splash. )

$199 is the kind of price tag that sounds nice in comparison to available options, but it’s certainly still expensive enough to be considered a consumer luxury. It is not quite cheap enough to make tablet computing ubiquitous as, for instance, mobile phones.

Indian Minister for Communications and Information Technology brandishes an Aakash. Photo swiped from http://www.kitguru.net.

Enter the UbiSlate by Datawind: Also known as Aakash, this Indian product would already be the world’s cheapest fully-functional, dual-core, tablet in the world at $60. However, in many cases (such as with students), the Indian government will subsidize this device down to $35, or roughly RS 1750. As with mobile phones (owned by many who have never owned a land-based line) or laptops (owned by a substantial amount of people who have never purchased their own desktop computers), this affordability may induce a generation of tech. consumers to “leapfrog” over the laptop all together.

A Public Health Perspective:

Widespread availability of mobile phones in some of the poorest parts of the developing world over the past decade has served as the springboard for various mHealth (a practice of public health and medicine supported by mobile devices) services and initiatives. The UN Foundation currently promotes the following categories of mHealth applications:

  • Education and awareness
  • Helpline
  • Diagnostic and treatment support
  • Communication and training for healthcare workers
  • Disease and epidemic outbreak tracking
  • Remote monitoring
  • Remote data collection

If a cheap, intuitive, and GPRS-enabled (for nationwide connectivity) tablet managed to undercut other mobile devices (such as laptops and netbooks), it could represent an improvement in nearly all of those categories.

Imagine a world where registered community health workers can sign out a tablet computer from a central location. All the reference documents he or she could possibly require in one 16 oz item, as well as counseling tools, and the ability to consult with physicians from the field. Not to mention access to YouTube. Everybody knows that watching videos of cats and babies being cute is its prime function, but YouTube is also possibly the largest visual “how-to” database that has ever existed.

The Aakash may not go so far yet, but the door has been cracked. Innovation breeds innovation, and the Aakash has the potential to take a large step forward in mHealth.

Specs:

  • Android OS 2.2 (Froyo)
  • Connexant with Graphics accelerator and HD Video processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 2 GB Internal Flash/External support up to 32 GB
  • USB 2.0 (1 Port)
  • 7″ Display, 800×480 pixel resolution
  • GPRS/WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/c
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About imran

Twenty-something in Washington, DC.

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