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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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neutrinos

So CERN apparently discovered nearly mass-less neutrino particles traveling at speeds faster than light. This could redefine much of Einstein’s special relativity (which has stood the test of a century’s worth of scientific innovations); or it could just be the media sensationalizing what is most likely a mistake or anomaly.

It doesn’t matter though — I’m always glad when innovations in science spark our collective imagination.  This is just a taste of what could happen if we focus our resources on turning science fiction into science fact. It can happen — it wasn’t long ago that men on the moon, geosynchronous satellites, little touchscreen panels used to access massive databases, and even flip phones (which are now relics), were all simply science fiction.

What’s next?

e-book reader and science fiction novel covers

I love my e-book reader. For a frequent commuter/traveler with spastic reading habits (I consistently start four books at the same time and end up finishing the most captivating one), there is no better invention.

*POP QUIZ* – Out of the following options, what’s the best part of owning a Sony PRS-350 Reader Pocket Edition?

  • I have a library of 300 books at my fingertips at all times.
  • I don’t have to ration out luggage space for books on trips.
  • It’s easier read with one hand than a normal book.
  • The reader’s e-ink display is about as close as you can get to real paper without actually using real paper.
  • If I want to, I can turn the nearest bit torrent site into the world’s most comprehensive library.

The answer, made predictable by the hackneyed *POP QUIZ* presentation style, is none of the above.

You see, I’m a genre reader. I enjoy reading all things from relatively dry history to popular science, but my go-to genre has always been science fiction and to a lesser extent, fantasy. Of course, the trouble with reading such a genre is that the dudes in charge of illustrating and approving the covers of the novels are usually, uh, out there. Thus, having a medium by which I can read a novel without revealing the generally embarrassing nature of the cover is a godsend.  Is it fair to judge a book by its cover? Of course not — but you and I both do it anyways, so why not discuss it?

But why just tell you about it when I can show you?

Exhibit ALord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

This one is a particularly amusing one, because I actually made the mistake of bringing the paperback version of this into Mrs. Carter’s 8th grade English class back in the day and leaving it face up on my desk. No, ladies, that is not Fabio on the cover. That is a dude who goes borderline insane and turns a bunch of opponents into viscous clouds of red mists by exploding them or something (it’s been awhile, but a certain chapter that goes like that sticks to mind). But would you be able to tell from the billowing white shirt, leather pants, and power stance with a prototypical woman swooning? No. You couldn’t. Can you blame people who think you’re reading a trashy romance novel? No, you can’t.

Exhibit BSaturn’s Children by Charles Stross

Ah, the sexy cyborg — a particularly popular trope of science fiction that makes sci fi sound like it’s best left to the mouthbreathers among us.

While Saturn’s Children is an average novel at best, Charles Stross is a good enough author to use this trope to make some interesting points about how technology can facilitate the repetition of human mistakes by nonhuman society. In this case, his focal point is slavery.  The concept of this book would have been even better if Philip K. Dick hadn’t done it all in 1968 with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Or as it’s known among you non-mouthbreathers, Bladerunner.

I imagine the final statement at the cover art meeting went something like this:

“Well, we’ve got the fairly dark thematic elements of slavery and shadow governments set in a world where humanity is extinct and all that, but let’s BRING ON THE SEXY CYBORG cleavage!”

I haven’t covered a book using paper grocery bags since the 8th grade, but I’d seriously consider doing it for this book. Or just not read it.

I could actually go on and on, but why save you a trip into the science fiction/fantasy section the next time you’re at Barnes and Noble? Just check it out. For more bad science fiction/fantasy novel covers visit this blog that I found while writing this post. It certainly inspired me to limit my own terrible covers to two; let’s just say I’m promoting a greener, more sustainable internet by not rehashing a topic that this guy has covered. Get it? Covered. Becaus–