Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Aakash 4 project: Dell, Intel, HP, Micromax among 17 companies in fray

Dell, Acer, HCL Infosystems, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Intel are among 17 companies that have shown interest in developing the next version of the government's ambitious low-cost tablet Aakash-4 whose tender will close on January 28.

Canada-based Datawind, which supplied the first 1 lakh Aakash tablets in India, too, is in the race and is competing with other players, including domestic manufacturers like Micromax, WishTel and ITI , in two areas: Price and sourcing norms under the tendering process.

Unlike in the past, the government this time is looking for multiple vendors and, hence, many bidders are planning to form consortia to jointly manufacture these devices. Moreover, to promote local manufacturing, the government has mandated that Aakash be manufactured here with 30% value addition by March 2014 and 35% after that.

Besides, the government is not waiving off customs duties for Aakash 4 due to which the price of the tablet may breach the Rs 2,500 mark. “The government wants an open source operating system so that it does not depend on the intellectual property of others. All participants are talking to each other for their expertise and getting together to produce Aakash 4,” said Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO, Datawind. Datawind has a manufacturing facility in Amritsar with a capacity to produce 5 lakh units per month.

Tuli added that his firm manufactures LCD and touchscreens in India, which is more than half the cost of the devices, due to which he makes profits despite running on tight margins.

The Aakash 4 tablet has one gigahertz of RAM, Bluetooth, a dual-core processor and second-generation phone calling facility -- specifications decided by a 12-member committee comprising representatives of department of electronics and information technology, C-DAC, IIT Bombay and directorate general of supplies and disposal, which has floated the tender. The tablet will also support WiFi, 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity and come with 4GB of internal storage, external memory card slot with storage capacity of up to 32 GB, bluetooth and front camera.

Aakash 1 got off to a poor start as it was promised to be made available to students at a subsidised rate of Rs 1,130, but got embroiled in a controversy regarding specifications between Datawind and IIT Jodhpur.

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