India Reveals Linux-Based $35 Tablet, We Reveal Why It's Likely Fake

<a href=Kapil Sibal" />

The happy man you see above is not the nine gazillionth owner of an iPad, but the Indian minister for HR Development, Kapil Sibal. What he's holding in his hand is, he claims, a $35 tablet that will give the OLPC a run for its money. It is, he told the press, "our answer to MIT's $100 computer." Developed by students and professors at India's tech universities--including the IITs of Madras and Bombay.

It's a Linux-based machine with videoconferencing, word processing and browsing capabilities, and has a solar-powered add-on. The warning bells, however, ring when you hear that they are expecting the cost of the device to drop to $10 in a few years' time. Wasn't that the price of last year's answer to the OLPC?

Well, first of all, let's take the good stuff out of this piece of news. Mr Sibal turned to his nation's bright sparks after Indian manufacturers refused to look at the project. They rose to the challenge, with one student at VIT Vellore creating his own motherboard for the project, its PCB made at IIT Kanpur. Total cost at this point was $47--Mazel Tov and all that.

So, if it's a PR campaign to remind the world just how geeky some Indians are, well done fella. However, we already know that India is one of the places to go for low-cost, mass-produced devices. Tata, anyone? Perhaps it's a campaign to get big U.S. tech firms such as HP and Apple to start manufacturing their devices out there. Fans of internecine nastiness might like to suggest it's a bit of political power play.

We know from a teardown of the iPad just how much its components cost to put the thing together--and that's $230. But let's not forget that its screen is a hi-tech IPS (that's in-plane switching, the highest quality LCD you can get). That alone costs $80.

Now let's look at pricing guestimates for some other well-known and loved mobile device components. A 4-inch screen for the iPhone 3GS costs $16. 8GB of RAM costs around $15. Kindle's 6-inch e-ink screen (the Indian tablet looks like a seven-incher to us) costs $60, and its PCB is $10. Throw in another $7.50 for your battery and you're suddenly looking rather over-budget. Where has the bargain basement price come from?

Either the project has been made using materials sourced cheaper than anyone else can from Chinese suppliers. Or they're using old components, which means to quote Kit, "the thing would perform like a bitch."

[Image Via The Hindu]

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22 Comments

  • Priyank

    I dont know who has written this article but I know that half of the united states which includes the politics ,the technology and other important stuff (in short one can say economy) is run by Indians .
    And other thing Apple who proudly announces its Ipad has much of the indian contribution in it.
    Most people dont know but Indian scientist invented zero and without it there will be no binary and thus no ipads and iphones. So instead of messing up with indians post some useful stuff on internet (to the author of this article)

  • Pushan Banerjee

    Aah. Another racist, biased and zero research article by Fast Company. Comes as no surprise to me that the writer is British, people who still can't believe that they don't rule India. People who still can't believe that their country has gone to the dogs, while India hasn't.

    The problem with this article is that is has little in the name of facts and more on guess work. I guess that most of these have been pointed out by the earlier commenters.

    I think I will sidewiki Fast Company as one of the most racist media companies because I don't know how such mediocre articles even get approved. Oh wait, perhaps because the entire writer base is British or stuck up Americans. Wake up, and smell the coffee!

  • Amol

    The earlier article was racist in Nature.
    Not expected on Fast Company atleast. Carpaces of dung beetles and discarded bindis?
    I wonder if any editing happens on this now

  • Zubin Balaporia

    Dear Addy, Your headline reads, "We Reveal Why It's Likely Fake ".
    A revelation should be based on hard facts and usage. How can you criticize a product without trying it? Maybe the Indian Tablet will not stand up to the I Pad and other fancy gizmos (yes I live in India, but I do own an I-Pad) but you can only take that call after trying it and not hypothesizing about it. And as for your logic on costs involved, it is the most absurd of reasons. The most noted Dr. Robert Moog, inventor of the modern Electronic Synthesizer once stated, that genius engineering was directly related to cost. He said, a great product is not one that performs superb tasks but requires astronomic costs and therefore a high purchase price. Great Engineering is a Superb Product directly linked to an affordable purchase price. There in lies the secret to most of Apple's products.
    Cheers
    Zubin

  • joetke

    dear Zubin, just to say you're completely right on every points. What seems for me a little bit amusing is the response pseudo-tech gurus, especially caucasians (to go short), mostly give to a REAL THREAT emerging countries gray matter constitutes IN ANY SCIENTIFIC FIELDS:
    to list just a few words they qualify those countries attempts (and eventually achievements sooner or later): FAKE, LOW-GRADE, PLAGIARISM etc...
    Those people might be right from time to time, no problem about that. BUT just have a look how India's education system, in less than a decade, get recognized as very efficient and ensures now a tremendous share of outsourcing, just to stay in IT sectors. At the very beginning of India's commitment in world-class software developing, many "gurus" hardly hid the boiling jealousy within them. That has NOT change their FEARS. Jealousy and suspicion are NOT the GOOD response to threats. ACTION and RESPECT of your competitors ARE THE FUNDAMENTAL STONES to get rid of hampering fears.
    Regarding this $35 indian tablet, anyone should know that in matter of education policies, the commitment of the State is crucial. If the indian minister said the device could be sold @ that price, it understates that financial resources will be brought and poured into the ongoing project to make this computer AFFORDABLE to local students. It's a matter of policies, not a matter of sitting down on a chair and doing some dubious maths. We're not in a case of marketing a tablet for much solvable societies or markets. When Obama's administration and many local US governments CUT education budgets, despite the THREAT of efficient educative system in China or India, it's a matter of policies. Nothing else. Wake up!

  • Jane Sixpack

    Whether or not the touchscreen PC designed by Indian students and faculty actually goes on the market for $35, $20, or for that matter, $50 or $100, the point is that here is a country which is on the right track trying to educate its young to compete in the 21st century. Recently, India successfully launched a pico satellite that was designed by undergraduate engineering students. This is NOT about cheap labor. The cost of a really good software engineer in India is getting closer to that in the US with each passing year (the annual 10% or so pay rises and bonuses add up). It is about having an educated, motivated, workforce. I don't expect this $35 tablet laptop to compete with Apple ipad. It is not intended to. You don't expect Ford Focus to compete with a Jaguar. They are different markets. However, for the poor kids in India, this is great. In order for the US to compete with India and China, the US needs to find a way to get the kids excited more about science, mathematics, and engineering than about sports, games, and round the clock entertainment. The states need to restore support for higher education so that the talented kids can afford to go to college. At a federal level, there needs to be significant increase in support for research and education - perhaps increasing the budgets of NSF, DOE, NIH and USDA by a factor of 10. Last but not the least, we need to get used to a world in which the US cannot take its leadership for granted and needs to find a way to work with the rising powers - especially those that are democratic and share many of the values that guided our founding fathers.

  • Michael Nemeth

    This article is totally biased. Don't know why FC is so Apple-dazzled and totally sees any other inventions down. Had it ever occured to the fool who wrote this article that it could be some design or hardware or any other thing that may have reduced the cost?
    Dont know if the author is even tech-savvy. Very disappointed in FC after reading this article.

  • Porus Munshi

    Correction: My earlier comment should read "Innovation really works challenge back and not cost forward" instead of "Innovation...price forward"

  • Porus Munshi

    Oh really Ms.Dugdale?! Your evidence for why something is 'impossible' is based on so called 'current reality'? And your reference points are Apple, Apple and Amazon?

    To paraphrase a certain famous gentleman, If there's one thing that innovation teaches us it's that just because something hasn't been done in the past it's no guarantee that it won't be done in the future. And the future begins right now.

    The write-down seems so similar to what Osamu Suzuki, Chairman of the Suzuki Motor Corporation said about Ratan Tata's $2,000 car in 2006: It can't be done. "It'll only be a three wheeler with a stepney". I'm sure Osamu-san also added up all the components and their costs that told him it can't be done. And when Canon gave the call for the world's smallest, lightest and cheapest copier way back in 1982, that would cost half that of the current cheapest machines on the market AND be service free for 50,000 copies up from the current industry standard of 2,000 copies, I'm sure that Xerox too put together all the components, calculated the costs and said 'It can't be done'.

    With innovation you really work challenge back and not price forward. Ask Ratan Tata. Ask Keizo Yamagi and Seichi Takigawa of Canon. Ask Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos too.

    Actually if there are a few things that history does teach us, they are there will always be someone who says 'It can't be done'. There will always be someone who mistakes the difficult and the unusual for the impossible. And that as Scott Simon puts it, there will always be intelligent people who come up with intelligent reasons why something can't be done.

    And Fast Company? I look at you with an eyebrow raised. You sound pretty pedestrian and mainstream with a write-down like this on your magazine.

  • kaiser

    I would appreciate a similar 'analysis' to compare the cost of the < $2,500 Tata Nano to the cost of other cars (since you used the iPad in this analysis, you might as well use at least a reasonable BMW or Porsche make).

  • MK J

    Let's also not forget that you pretty conveniently ignored the fact that it doesnt have a hard drive and uses open souce software :)

  • MK J

    While it has been obvious for a long time that FastCompany is a fool for Apple and anything that Steve Jobs lays his hands on. I do find it startling that you guys would stoop so low, agreed blogs aren't particularly known for their "journalistic" standards, and are usually just a bunch of geeks expressing their views from behind a computer, but I actually had a fair bit of respect for FC until I saw this article. Judging by this and the previous article, it seems that FC and its editors have some sort of strange bias against India and its engineering abilities. Guys, take a look at reality, half the good engineering in our country is done by Indian engineers, ever heard of Silicon Valley? It's easy for us in the west to sit around and point fingers and laugh when a growing nation tries to come up with some technology, but think about the resources that Apple had when it developed the iPad and consider the fact that this was put together by a bunch of students from different universities.

    Even if we ignore the biasedness of the tripe posted above, the facts themselves are a bit messed up. Simply by basing your article on the assumption that those guys are coming up with something thats comparable to an iPad you're already losing the point. This device isnt supposed to be an "ipad killer" its a simple touch screen pad meant for use by poor students in a developing country.

    Lastly, apart from some new articles, what sources do you really have on which you based your entire argument?

    I am an avid reader of FC and usually enjoy the well researched blogging that goes on here. But this article is a bit exaggerated. We Americans should know better than to criticize something without thoroughly evaluating it. Please post more articles from contributors such as Kit and don't just write about stuff for the sake of reaching a certain number of articles per day.

  • Bharat

    There is a diiference between American company and an Indian company.
    American companies will charge 10 times what it cost to make verses indian company will charge a mere 10% of their cost.

    The TATA car manufacturer is coming out with AIR CAR ( the car that runs on compressed air that will cost $2 for 100 miles ) next year for $1000. The same technolgy licensed by an American Company based in New York is planning on selling it for $35000+ !

    Air car tech - http://www.mdi.lu/english/prod...

  • Avinash Rajagopal

    Unfortunately, thanks to google reader, I read an older version of this post, that ended with an even more offensive, rather juvenile, parting shot.

    Thank you, Fast Company, for editing that out.

  • Tyler Gray

    This item was edited after it was published to remove a joke at the end that rubbed some tweeters the wrong way. All apologies.

  • Nick

    The article is based on assumptions without any actual investigation of how was the tablet made. It has a tone of preconceived bias.The article sites rates of iPad and iPhone parts.. grow out of the apple mania.. this thing is not expected to be of that quality.. it is intended for poor students...

  • Afam Edozie

    Given that iPad's OS is a stripped down version of Mac OS X; The linux verson can proably deliver the same performance on half the horsepower. Meaning that it might not 'peform like a bitch' on older hardware.

    Anyway even given that $47 seems low. A cheaper (and smaller) screen at $30 and older electronics would still tip the scale at $105. But still not bad for a SmartPad (or TouchPad) for every child.

  • aruna@mac.com

    First, I am not an Indian, though I am a heavy user of Indian Resources.

    With that disclosure put aside, I think the tone of this article is racist and not worthy of Fast Company. Very little research has gone into this article - the OEM price of a 7-inch LCD, without the hi-tech gloss of the iPad, can be as low as US$19.00, if you know where to look. I know, because I have just place an order for 125 units, not much, but enough for a project of mine. Further, prices are dropping at the low-end. This could well be a grey scale screen, instead of the color LCD´s of all the examples mentioned in this article with a lower pixel resolution too - which could well drive the price down at OEM prices to around US$5.00 per unit.
    Same goes for the PCB. The software, of course, is free.
    Or may be the author of this article is privy to some real secret - that the carapaces of dung beetles has a higher concentration of silicon and can be used to manufacture nano-chips? perhaps...

  • Apurv

    I don't get it.India is a poor nation or a nation of snakecharmers for you folks..with 60% of the population still in villages and efforts to properly educate and ensure a sound upbringing of all the poor indians, techies tried this out...Anyways we poor Indians won't be able to afford your ipads so this product(never touted an ipad killer) would suit us.Wonder why people like you seem to take offence whenever a developing nation seems to do something good or cost effective...
    And last but not the least your last line on dung beetles very well reflects your pathetic and snobbish mentality and doesn't deserve being featured on websites like this..Anyways God hail the editors who let this pass thru..As for the cost related fakeness pointed out remember the TATA NANo..atleast these are better than living and boasting in a nation which gave birth to foolish crises like subprime and which is being funded by China...loser