Jamshed Avari | 27 September 2010
Amidst the multiple embarrassing stories about the Commonwealth Games falling apart, another equally amazing story seems to have slipped through the cracks. Reports have surfaced that India’s much-hyped $35 tablet is indeed a fraud. Although there has been no word from the government to substantiate this yet, images and records traced by resourceful journalists seem to prove that the design widely shown off just a few months ago is nothing more than a Chinese OEM design. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, since China is the manufacturing superpower behind nearly all the world’s cheapest tech devices today and a huge number of the high-quality branded goods we all buy.
After the glorified pen drive known as Sakshat became an international laughing stock in tech circles, our authorities should have known better than to risk a repeat. Still, the level of hype around this tablet was unprecedented, and the union HRD ministry cultivated it to their advantage. And the media and public lapped it up; thrilled that we had a genuine achievement to be proud of. For once, despite the many voices of doubt, our collective cynicism was largely put aside. The $35 price was commonly known to be impossible, but this could easily be written off as a government subsidy. After all, this was never meant to be an open market price, only the final cost that students and institutes would have had to pay per device. Now, no matter the quality of the online lessons, everyone’s focus will be on the tablet.
It’s possible that the Chinese-made Hivision Speedpad was selected as some sort of target to emulate, and that the device that will eventually launch will be different. Let's hope the government responds to the press and clarifies this little detail. Now, doubt has been cast on the quality of students and professors in our IITs and other engineering institutes, which are quite highly respected around the world.
It would have made perfect sense if the government had simply started out by saying it had created an exceptional educational infrastructure with content and a distribution platform, instead of taking explicit credit for the design and manufacturing of this device. It would have seemed smart that the government was saving R&D costs by using a readymade design that could simply be ordered in bulk.
Why not simply start out with the truth? It's a little less glamorous, but surely we don't need to drum up so much attention. Or does the government not know that the tech and media industries today are so well connected that everything like this can be traced? If our famed $35 tablet turns out to be nothing more than the Speedpad, there will be tough questions to answer and a tattered reputation to repair.