Watch The World's Cheapest Tablet In Action, DataWind's $40 Ubislate 7ci [Video]

The lastest version of the Indian-designed Aakash tablet could shake up education in developing countries and double the number of people who have access to the Internet. Will DataWind deliver?

More than 6 billion people in the world have cell phones of some kind. But only a quarter of the developing world has access to the Internet.

Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of DataWind, believes that the super-cheap Aakash tablet (called the Ubislate 7ci) will give low-income Indians, and low-income earners in other developing countries, a shot at connectivity—fruit vendors and rickshaw drivers who can't or won't buy a computer, much less a third-screen iPad.

"We are used to new tablets that break some performance barrier," Tuli tells Fast Company. The question DataWind goes after is this one: "What is the right set of specs for the entry level consumer, and what is the lowest price [it can sell at]."

Tuli stopped by the Fast Company offices with the latest version of DataWind's ultra-cheap tablet. It has the basic functionality of a smartphone, Wi-Fi connectivity, rear- and front-facing cameras, and a micro-USB port (!). The parts are assembled in China and India (a sort of nebulous supply chain). It runs Android 4, like many high-end smartphones, but Tuli plans to sell the tablet at a fraction of what many of those cost.

The Indian government has put in a bulk order for the device at $40, and then the plan is to offer it to students at $20. But beyond the educational market, Tuli believes there is a deep need for connectivity in India that his extremely cheap tablet will fill.

He has a point. World-wide, cellphone penetration is booming but Internet access lags by about 4 billion. "That gap is not because of connectivity or access—they’re using mobile phones, they have some way of charging those things. That gap is affordability. Killing the affordability gap is going to bring on the next 2 or 3 billion people." Tuli sees his tablets becoming as prolific as calculators once they catch on. Because of duties and taxes the tablet will almost certainly cost more when it is commercially sold. Though, Tuli hopes that if DataWind can bring the price down to a certain point, the government will waive some taxes altogether.

As an example, DataWind asked students at IIT Kanpur to build a series of test apps that could potentially work in such situations. Tuli says the "winner" was an app that allowed the fruit vendor to keep a track of his inventory, and customers, and record how much he was earning and spending.

It's not just the developing world. In places like the U.S. and Canada, Suneet Singh Tuli believes DataWind could be the Walmart of tablets, filling a need in households that want a spare Internet device without splurging on a smartphone or a new computer.

Tuli makes a good case for his budget device, but how quickly he will be able to make it available to students, much less put it on for sale to the rest of us, remains to be seen. The company's top priority for now is filling the Indian government's order of 100,000 . That’s a target Tuli is not sure they'll hit in time, but that won’t stand in the way of the project going forward, he says.

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  • $33696895

    This kind of forgery should not be acknowledged. This is a tablet that is simply purchased from China and resold as an "Indian invention". This is the same as the Allwinner A13 android tablet. And Datawind has created fake awards too by making websites of non-existent organizations that has handed them awards... You can get cheaper tablets than this with twice the features.

  • Sendogo

    Hello, you wrote that one can get cheaper tablets than this.  Can u tell me where. AM INTERESTED.  Thanks.

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    This is a great initiative and will have amazing ramifications to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India. Just imagine how much your digital market becomes once these tablets become widespread!!

  • $33696895

    Importing items from China and renaming them as 'Indian inventions' is not going to have any ramification at all to any entrepreneurial ecosystem in India.

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    More of these devices coupled with increased internet penetration will increase the size of the digital market. This could lead to more companies sprouting providing servies and applications to serve the local market. 

  • umbrarchist

    In most ways it's better than my Archos PMA400 that cost $800 in 2005. The PMA400 has a 30 gig hard drive though.

    India may bypass the US in education because it does not have a large expensive educational bureaucracy  primarily interested in its own economics.  Tablets could make good universal education cheap and tablets don't have an ego.

    How many teachers make things unnecessarily complicated to make themselves look smart?

    But what will really happen if EVERYBODY is educated?

  • $33696895

    This is not invented or created in India. Its created in China and merely being imported and resold in India under a different name. Anyone can do this.

  • umbrarchist

     I don't really care where it comes from.  It is what is done with it that matters.

    Educators could have created a National Recommended Reading List decades before we had cheap computers but they don't even discuss that today.  Such a list would not have done as much good in India with tens of millions of people who can't read.  So what will good educational software on these devices do in a country that does not have enough teachers anyway.

    What will America do with cheap tablets.  We will have lots of marketing telling people to buy expensive tablets.