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Finally, an affordable ultra mobile touch PC 'Made in India'?

-- IndiaTechOnline EXCLUSIVE -- April 12, '09; BANGALORE: A low key Indian embedded hardware and software design house based in Bangalore and Kochi, may yet deliver the country's first truly portable personal computing Internet appliance to breach the hitherto unattainable retail price tag of ten thousand rupees - that's USD 250.

Unlike the officially sponsored announcement from the Indian Ministry of Education earlier this year that invited wide derision for its half baked offering of a work-in-progress Net appliance, touted at an unrealistic $ 20 equivalent, the Rainbow-G6 from iWave (www.iwavesystems.com) has been realised and tested in reference designs that work: I was one of the first members of the media to handle these prototypes in the company's lab in Bangalore a few days ago. The hand sized device is only slightly larger than its 7 inch diagonal LCD touch screen. Powered by Intel's  chip, eMenlow Atom Z530/Z510, it comes with  1GB or 2 GB of DDR2 RAM, and either a 16 GB or 32 GB  flash -based solid state drive or up to 160 GB of a 1.8 inch hard disk drive. Interfaces include 3x USB 2.0 , Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g WiFi, GSM/GPRS/EDGE dual band, Bluetooth and GPS.

The key achievement is shrinking the motherboard to Q7 form factor -- that is 7 cm by 7 cm. I understand that besides iWave, only three other agencies, one in Europe and two  based in Taiwan have succeeded in shrinking the functionality of a full featured Windows PC to these dimensions. I saw the exploded version of this machine running Vista -- though there is no reason why it cannot port any open source OS. I would imagine, in the final form factor and at the price bands addressed by this machine, quite a few OEMs will offer non proprietary Linux distributions as an alternative to Windows. But porting Vista is a sort of test of manhood for such ultra mobile PCs and the upcoming Windows 7 should be an even better fit.

What the Rainbow-G6  (The G6 means it is iWave's 6th generation of its basic computing platform since it started work exactly 10 years ago) lacks -- and this is the only omission in what is otherwise a lean and mean bundle of hardware and software -- is a built in key board. The reference designs I tried out used the miniature keyboards (either the hard foldables or the soft rollables) that are popular with owners of hand held PCs or PDAs. iWave's founder-Managing Director M.A. Mohamed Saliya says the company took a deliberate decision not to create a design with an attached keyboard, adding to the weight and the mechanical complexity. That is not to say end users will have to shop around for their own. iWave which has worked closely with hardware manufacturers both in India and abroad, feels a consumer price of less than Rs 10,000 that is USD 250, is achievable, based on 100,000-plus quantities, and their bill of materials. The keyboard in all likelihood will be bundled with any such offer, though I am guessing Windows will be a paid extra.

In its ten  years  in this corner of India's embedded apps business, iWave has been a quiet and understated presence though its most significant customer gains have been in Japan, where it runs a full fledged subsidiary and garners over a third of its business. The Japanese railway system has been a key customer, deploying iWave's 64-bit Freescale processor-based PC board across its signaling systems. The company is a unit of the Kochi-based Special Economic Zone in Kerala and its Bangalore design house has over 100 engineers working in 5 or 6 teams whose latest achievements include the first Internet-Protocol-based videophone that is switchable between IP and landline telephony and the tiniest GPS receiver modules achieved in this country.

- ANAND PARTHASARATHY

( revision 1: April 13)