India's $10 Laptop

On February 3, the Indian government will unveil a $10 educational laptop intended to bring computing to the masses, reports the Times of India. By comparison, a computer-shaped cake pan is $20 plus shipping in the U.S. Will the $10 PC revolutionize educational computing?

First, the specs: Like a lot of cheap PCs, the device will sport 2GB of RAM, Wi-Fi and expandable hardware, and operate on a modest two watts of power. The current prototype can be produced for about $20, according to India's Secretary for Higher Education, R.P. Agarwal. Large-scale production runs should cut that price in half, he said, resulting in the $10 figure the government is touting.

That's about one tenth the cost of the cheapest available PCs in the U.S. that retail for about $100, and operate on the old razor-and-blade business model; they require costly subscriptions to mobile broadband subscriptions.

The Indian government hasn't broken down the cost of its components, but it probably cut the costs of research and development substantially by recruiting university students to help draw up the plans. Students at the Vellore Institute of Technology played a significant role, working with state-funded organizations like the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and a partially-public entity called the Semiconductor Complex. Despite a publicly-funded development, the notebooks themselves will be manufactured on contract by private companies.

According to the Times of India, the $10 laptop is a direct response to the MIT-developed nonprofit One Laptop Per Child program, that was viewed as grossly expensive in India. The OLPC devices cost about $100 each, but "hidden costs" bring that price up to around $200. OLPC has also been a victim of its own poor strategy, evidenced by recent layoffs and a failure to secure donations and orders in 2008. The program has also seen itself dwarfed by Intel's [INTC] Classmate PC program, that most recently took an order from the government of Portugal for 500,000 PCs. The company still has big plans for a next-generation touch-screen notebook, however.

To see FastCompany.com's interview with OLPC Founder Nicholas Negroponte on the development of the OLPC, click here, or watch Robert Scoble's video segment on the company's future below.

India's ultra-cheap laptop is part of a tersely-named initiative called the National Mission on Education Through Information and Communication Technology. That mission also extends to a connectivity initiative meant to get students and textbooks all over India online. India's education ministry has reportedly made deals with four publishers (Macmillan, Tata McGraw Hill, Prentice-Hall and Vikas Publishing) to provide digital textbooks and content on the $10 laptops, some of which will be accessible for free.

There's been no announcement on what kind of operating system the $10 laptop will use, but chances are it'll be a simple Linux-based GUI like the Eee PC. It probably won't be as beautiful as the elegant new Jolicloud netbook OS that made its debut this week, but hey--at $10, who could complain?

The Indian government also hasn't announced whether it will be selling the $10 notebook commercially, after it goes in to production this summer. If it does, it may not be for a long time; the ministry of education will have enough work to do distributing these notebooks and expanding connectivity in the nation's 18,000 colleges. If the government of India should sell them abroad, it may spell the end of the languishing OLPC program.

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8 Comments

  • sam

    good day
    please send me your prices in U.S.D
    iam coming to INDIA soon
    i heard about the cheapest labtop is produced in INDIA 
    PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU CAN SUPPLY ME HALL SELL 
    MY EMAIL IS viag100@yahoo.com

  • James Smith

    What all of these programs are ignoring is that 95% of the use of these laptops will be for playing games. Anything you give to a child will first be regarded as a toy. Something for education will be tossed aside in favor of play. That's human nature, something very few people want to admit or think about.

  • John Andy

    The next important criteria when you buy a laptop is size and weight. The best choices for mobile office workers are thin & light laptops and ultra-portable designs. You'll find these laptops offer the best mobility options and make the most sense when you have to travel with your laptop.

    John
    getac w130

  • Rayan Leo

    THis si a good start to how things shuld be. Everyonem carrying a small computing device and all around you are interface devices free for everybody to use. Yu just walk up with your device and your PC will auotmatically interface voip and allow you to interact with the pc and the rest of the world. our smart phone should already be doing that for online payments. Imagine, you walk in to a starbucks and sit down. the table will slide up a screena nd project a keyoard onto the surface and off you go. No need for bulky laptops because of the screen and keyboard. so lets get away from the idea of everything needing to be a laptop. If this is a cheap $30 computer that you can hook up to a TV or other monitor and use a battered keyboard then there is a real benefit to this. Is it a laptop? wireless broadband No. Could it have a useful place in meeting the needs of the poor? You bet.

  • Charbax

    Portugal and Venezuella's order of Clasmate laptops are for 2012. Same with Pakistan, Mexico, Libiya and Nigeria. None of those have received ANY classmate laptops as of yet. All of those are basically a bunch of photo ops.

    OLPC has already delivered 1.2 million laptops in the hands of children in 10 thousand pilot OLPC schools throughout the third world.

    I suggest as a journalist you check your facts before claiming that Intel classmate has dwarfed anything. The only thing Intel classmate has dwarfed is the price per laptop, at over $500, the latest tablet classmate laptop is a power consuming and expensive piece of cr#ap. Perhaps you should do some research on that.

  • Chris Dannen

    @Nicholas: Just the most recent order of Classmate PCs alone, made by Venezuela, topped 1 million units. And that's not counting the hundreds of thousands already at work in Africa, Europe and other regions South America. The Classmate has, in fact, dwarfed the OLPC program.

    All indication suggest that the Indian $10 PC will be able to handle the modern Web. With 2GB of RAM, it had better.

  • Charbax

    It'd be interesting if the Indians were able to make some kind of calculator/ pocket translator type of Internet terminal with a slightly larger than pocketable monocolor cheapest possible screen. I wonder what type of ARM processor they would use, and if it would be able to display internet content using AJAX or Flash.

    Anyways, for basic ebook reading and html text based web surfing it could be enough. But I doubt the Indian $20 laptop suppots the current web, I doubt it supports the resolution, mouse interfaces and such. But even if it only works with a new lower resolution mobile-phone type of web specially designed for it and on a small monochrome screen, even without any type of multimedia support, I'd still think it would be a great idea.

    Being against the OLPC project though is just ridiculous. OLPC has influenced the biggest ever decrease in price of any X86 based laptop platforms. The whole Netbook segment is thanks to OLPC and not anyone else. The whole notion of halving cost of laptops every 18 months instead of adding bloat and features to keep the price high.

    Saying that OLPC has been dwarfed by Intel's Classmate is ridiculous. OLPC has delivered 1.2 million laptops to third world countries. Intel has delivered nothing yet other than photo-ops by their CEO landing on one or two demo Intel villages in Nigeria and Mexico with his helicopter. Fact is even though OLPC made commercial Netbooks possible, none of the netbooks can be used by children in the third world cause they consume too much power, cost too much, and on several other points are simply not more than gadgets for geeky adults in the western world.