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

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]