WASHINGTON – It is a strange coincidence. Right on the day of Steve Jobs’ death, the personal computer he helped invent not so long ago is now closer than ever to becoming a really cheap commodity.
It so happened that today Datawind, an Indian company, announced the launching of its $ 35 tablet called Aakash which means “Sky” in Hindi. From the standpoint of global economic development, it is really good that computers are becoming simple commodities. These cheap PCs, tablets and what not, will make it possible for hundreds of millions on the other side of the digital divide to join the connected world, with enormous economic advantages for global development.
Bridging the digital divide
Indeed, while thanks to Jobs’ vision and genius his Apple products still dazzle with their innovative applications and sleek design, more than half the world still does not know much about computers, let alone about surfing the internet, sending e-mails or talking in chat rooms.
Well, thanks to the rapid expansion of the innovation process initiated by pioneers like Steve Jobs more than 30 years ago, this huge gap may be soon filled. Datawind, a company with operations in Canada and India, just introduced the super simple but also super cheap small Aakash tablet that can be used for education purposes. The tablet has been developed by Datawind in Hyderabad in cooperation with the Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT), Rajasthan, a super university part of the larger IIT family of specialized technology universities.
From PCs costing thousands a few decades ago to the $ 35 tablet
With some state subsidies, Aakash retail price will be only $ 35. The actual cost is more like $ 50. But, even so, if we think that personal computers have been around for only a relatively short time, this trajectory leading to a $ 35 tablet is incredible.
Only 20-30 years ago, very simple, in fact primitive (compared to what we have today) devices, with almost no memory and rudimentary functions used to sell for thousands of dollars. But today in the West enormously improved PCs and laptops sell for only a few hundred dollars.
Cheap but viable
And now in India we can have a stripped down but still viable computer for the price of a meal in a western country. Mind you, $ 35 is still a very high price for poor people in India. But it is a price that begins to become accessible.
I have no idea as to the adequacy of the technology included in this Aakash tablet. (According to Datawind, the tablet has basic features that allow applications such as video, word processing and more). But, assuming that it works as advertised, this is a concrete step on the long way to bridge the digital divide.
Hundreds of millions will be connected to the global economy
The most significant news here is that it is now possible to manufacture a cheap device that allows internet connectivity and the performance of basic functions. No doubt, this product launch is the first in a long series that will follow. The potential impact of this transformation for global economic development is enormous.
From an economic development standpoint, this will mean change down the line for the hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of people who do not have access to IT devices and through them to the internet.
Until now these masses have been severely penalised. The world is more and more interconnected, but they are locked out. And this is true in India and in many other developing countries. Of course, India is known for its high-tech centers in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and so forth. But more than half of the Indian people live in villages, (that’s at least 500 million), most of them in poverty. They lack access to almost anything, (starting with clean water and electricity), let alone computers and the internet.
A mile stone and Steve’s Jobs’s legacy
This small, inexpensive device represents a mile stone in the long road to integrate those who have been left out by the IT revolution. After testing the tablet in Indian classrooms, there is a clear intent to market Aakash around the world. Hundreds of millions elsewhere in Asia and certainly in Africa will be able to gain a new tool and internet connectivity through this device and those that will follow it.
If Steve Jobs were still alive, he would have been pleased to see that the computer he invented may soon become a tool to help hundreds of millions out of exclusion from the mainstream, hopefully placing them on a better road towards development.
In fact, inventing the tool that ultimately connected the world may very well be Steve Jobs’ true legacy.