Indian government invitation to tablet PC makers, belies claims about "$35 device"
Startling similarity to a Chinese product launched earlier in the year.
The Government of India’s , Ministry of Human Resource Development has published a tender document inviting expressions of interest from computer makers to design, develop and produce a “Low-Cost Access Device for Institutions of higher learning” for $35, that is Rs 1500, or less.
The document published at the website of the ministry’s National Mission for education through Information Communication and Telecommunications, Sakshat, lays out minimum functionalities and specifications for a 7-inch LCD TFT touch sceren based Internet and computing device with High Definition ports, web cam, 8 GB external storage and support for a projector. It does not specify an Operating System; but in all other respects it is identical to the “$ 35 computing device” unveiled by the Education Minister Kapil Sibal, in July this year.
The Minister claimed in a programme on the Indian satellite and cable news channel NDTV in August, that the product was ready; it worked -- and gave credit for the development to the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. The ‘Gadget Guru’ programme of the channel, went ballistic about its “scoop” in getting its hand on the first piece and suggested that the product was a world first at the achieved price point. “It exists and works”, they said, adding, “We’re proving the world wrong”. However the latest tender invitation begs the question, why respondents would be require to “design” and “develop” an item that was presumably already developed, prototyped and handed to a TV channel to review. Presumably the $ 35 price was based on a real bill of materials, at the very least – even if the price to end users was to be heavily subsidised by government.
The official and media hype notwithstanding, the credibility the “Indian” $ 35 tablet PC has been somewhat dented by alert techie bloggers ( see links below) who pointed to the startling physical similarity between the Indian device shown in repeated close-ups in the NDTV programme and a 7-inch touch tablet, "SpeedPad", launched much earlier –at the CeBIT trade show in Germany in March 2010 -- by a Chinese company, Hi-Vision. The technical specifications too were almost the same. Trade reviewers at CeBIT had uploaded many videos on You Tube, highlighting the device which was said to be available shortly for $ 100 or so. ( Links at the end of this piece) A comparison of screen grabs from the CeBIT/Hi-Vision device and the NDTV/Indian $ 35 computer ( see our illustration) will leave few in doubt that both products shared – at the very least – the identical physical features, down to the material of the buttons and controls and their position next to the screen . This is not an off-the-shelf PC cabinet which multiple makers may use – but a one-of-its-kind design from a single source. In none of the announcements by the Indian government, was there any suggestion that any element of their $ 35 device was bought out. The coincidence of their much touted made-in-India product looking so similar to a commercial product already available globally, at the time of the Indian claim to originality, may be hard to stomach for seasoned watchers of the PC scene.
We have mustered the facts. Now, you decide for yourself! Here are the relevant documents: