Tuesday, February 3, 2009
India Shows $10-$20 Laptop ($10US, 500 Rupees, 8 Euros, 7.25 GBP)
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Tirumpati, India, February 3, 2000 -- India is showing off a prototype of what is to be the world's cheapest laptop / notebook, the Sakshat, which is variously reported to have a price tag of just 10 or 20 US dollars. This is truly a depression computer and marks an astonishing level of deflation in prices of technical goods.
Indian government sources say the prototype is the centerpiece of an ambitious e-learning program to link 18,000 colleges and 400 universities across the country.
India has a reputation for creating ultra-cheap technologies, a trend sparked last year by the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car at $2500 (see Nano).
The computer, known as Sakshat, which translates as "before your eyes", will be launched as part of a new 46 billion RS "national mission for education." This envisages a network of laptops from which students can access lectures, coursework and specialist help from anywhere in India, triggering a revolution in education. A number of publishers have reportedly agreed to upload portions of their textbooks on to the system.
Prabhakar Rao, vice-chancellor of the university in Andhra Pradesh from where the Sakshat will be launched, said that India was "looking to get the hardware and software cheaper. In a developing country, costs have to be kept low so that the maximum number of students will benefit. That means cheap computers and cheap broadband access, so that students get access to ebooks and ejournals."
Designed by scientists at the Vellore Institute of Technology, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras and the state-controlled Semiconductor Complex, the laptop has 2 GB of RAM and wireless connectivity. To keep costs low, experts say it will not use familiar Microsoft Windows software.
Officials are confident that the Rs500 price tag can be met. R.P. Agarwal, the top civil servant for Indian higher education, told newspapers last week that "at this stage, the price is working out to be US$20, but with mass production it is bound to come down," presumably to the $10 target mentioned by other sources.
However, some experts doubt that a laptop at US$20 or US$10 is commercially sustainable. Rajesh Jain, managing director of Netcore Solutions and a pioneer of low-cost computing in India, said: "You cannot even [make] a computer screen for $20. And India does not build much computer hardware. So where will the savings come from?"
THE REAL PRICE CHAMP IS THE ALPHA 400 AND ITS BROTHERS
The actual course of the race to the bottom is more apt to work out as follows. More and more manufacturers and brands will adopt the 400-MHz MIPS-processor technology of the Alpha 400, Elonex, HiVision, Razorbook, etc., of this blog. There probably will be 30 or more brands of 400s in a year or two.
The 400s are the successors to the Asus EEE as the low-price leader. Essentially, Asus has abandoned the quest for least price and joined Microsoft and Intel in their quest to keep prices and profits high. The EEE is nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic of Asus, who apparently never had any intention to produce laptops for $200, much less $100 or less.
The quest will be furthered when the circuitry on the 400 or a similar machine is reduced to perhaps two or three chips, using the system-on-a-chip (SoC) approach: whole chip sets and the motherboard being replaced by a few very large chips on a small PCB (printed-circuit board).
A post below shows the interior of the Alpha 400 using current technology. The SoC approach can certainly reduce the IC count and circuit-board size and complexity. Already the Alpha 400 can be sold (by Exon International) for $89 wholesale, so an equivalent laptop using SoC technology and selling for $75 or less in the coming year seems well within reason.
Also reducing the cost to the consumer will be new marketing techniques, for example selling the mini-laptops on bubblepack cards (photo) on racks in dollar stores, drugstores, grocery stores, and the like.