Science

India unveils $35 computer

It looks like an iPad, only it's 1/14th the cost: India has unveiled the prototype of a $35 US touchscreen tablet computer aimed for production by 2011.

Tablet uses memory card, open-source software

It looks like an iPad, only it's 1/14th the cost: India has unveiled the prototype of a $35 US basic touchscreen tablet computer aimed at students, which it hopes to bring into production in early 2011.

If the government can find a manufacturer, the Linux operating system-based computer would be the latest in a string of "world's cheapest" innovations out of India, home to the $2,100 Nano car, a $16 water purifier and $2,000 open-heart surgery.

The tablet can be used for functions like word processing, web browsing and video conferencing. It has a solar power option — important for India's energy-starved hinterlands — though that costs extra.

"This is our answer to MIT's $100 computer," Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal told the Economic Times as he unveiled the device Thursday.

In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, unveiled a prototype of a $100 laptop for children in the developing world. India rejected that as too expensive and embarked on an effort to develop a cheaper option.

Negroponte's laptop ended up costing about $200, but in May his non-profit association, One Laptop Per Child, said it plans to launch a basic tablet computer for $99.

Sibal, meanwhile, turned to students and professors at India's elite technical universities to develop the $35 tablet after receiving a "lukewarm" response from private-sector players. He hopes to get the cost down to $10 eventually.

Mamta Varma, a ministry spokeswoman, said falling hardware costs and intelligent design make the price tag plausible. The tablet doesn't have a hard disk, but instead uses a memory card, much like a mobile phone. The tablet design cuts hardware costs, she said, and the use of open-source software adds to savings.

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