The age of the iPad arrives for India’s schools

The long-awaited $35 laptop is here, the Indian government said on Wednesday. And it’s not a laptop!

Kapil Sibal, India’s minister for human resources development unveiled “Aakash,” a tablet computer that will cost the ministry 2276 Indian rupees, or $50, at a press conference in New Delhi.

Free tablets were distributed to 500 students invited from across India to the event. The government will be providing subsidies to students to bring the cost down to about $35.

The tablet, which has a seven-inch touch screen and 256 megabytes of RAM, will use the Android 2.2 operating system from Google and has two USB ports…

DataWind, a company founded in 2001 by two brothers who live in Canada, Suneet and Raja Tuli, won the tender for the tablet, beating out several other bidders. The company’s research and development is based in Montreal, but its products were, until now, mainly sold in the Britain…

Unlike DataWind’s other products, which are made in China, the new device will be manufactured in India, Ms. Khan said, by a company called Quad. DataWind won the tender from the government to provide 100,000 devices, beating out several other bidders, Ms. Khan said. If the trial run is successful, “the next order is for one million units,” she said.

There are three significant aspects to this announcement, the culmination of an Indian project to bring cyber-education to their schools.

First, is recognition of a new paradigm created worldwide by Apple’s introduction of the iPad. That took a partially-realized form factor to something truly useful. Lightness, thinness, miniaturization possible with the latest components. Apple proved the concept. The world is adopting it.

Second, the Indian government and DataWind have cut costs to the bone enabling mass production – and therefore access – for students as the target market of the hardware. Using a version of the free Android/Linux OS, the device can function as an eReader and provide internet access anywhere with a wifi hotspot. Subsidizing the cost for local school districts helps the rollout which starts with college students – then, down through high schools to elementary students. A process which even India’s ingrained corruption may not interfere with.

Third, the task which lies before the Indian government, education ministries and, hopefully, innovation in local schools. The Android/Linux OS means that individuals can participate in growing uses for the device. Folks can develop educational apps which prove to be successful and productive.

“Aakash” means “sky” in Hindi. And the sky may be the only limit to this project.

Thanks, Ursarodina