There's something dodgy about the Indian cheap tablet project

Something extremely dodgy appears to have stuffed up the Indian government’s Aakash tablet project.

After announcing the tablet, the tech companies DataWind and Quad Electronic pressed on making them, but students with the test tablets wanted a longer battery life and a faster processor, among other things.

The government called a meeting between all parties involved and it was agreed that DataWind would supply an upgraded tablet. It would have a longer-lasting 3200 milliamps hour battery, more sophisticated operations and a faster-acting 700 megahertz ARM Cortex A8 processor.

DataWind was given up to March 31st to deliver the tablets, based on testing criteria sent by I.I.T. Rajasthan.

When the spec arrived from I.I.T. Rajasthan it included things that were just too bizarre to be serious.

The new tablet would have to be able to withstand four inches of rain, enduring shock tests when “mounted in a vehicle,” and when subject to “sudden acceleration, braking, or turning while transporting the units.”

These were the same tests which were required for military-grade laptops and cost thousands of dollars. In fact they appeared to have been cut and pasted from the spec of Hewlett Packard’s rugged notebook launched in 2004.

Datawind felt it was almost as if I.I.T. Rajasthan no longer wanted Datawind involved in the project and sent them a comedy spec to see them off.

This suspicion was confrimed when DataWind’s subcontractor Quad Electronic, without DataWind’s knowledge, signed an agreement with I.I.T. Rajasthan to manufacture a rival low-cost tablet.

The situation was so cloak and dagger that when DataWind executives saw a senior Quad Electronic executive on the daily flight to Jodphur, he tried to hide his face with a newspaper.

Quad Electronic confirmed in last month that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with I.I.T. Rajasthan, but insisted that his company was making “smart television boxes” and communication devices.

However suddenly the college asked for the project to be transferred from them to I.I.T. Bombay, according to the New York Times.

Aakash is now being led by Deepak Phatak, said the manufacturer and I.I.T. Rajasthan had “some intractable problems,” which prompted I.I.T. Rajasthan to request the ministry that the project be taken away from them.

I.I.T. Bombay now wants to draw up a new contract and start from scratch.

DataWind is furious and has severed all ties with Quad Electronic, and is working with a new subcontractor. It is unclear whether DataWind will be producing the Indian government’s tablet going forward, despite winning the tender.

It does not know how much money it has wasted trying to deal with the project but appears to have been out manoeuvred by someone. The net result will be that Indian students will not get their government supported tablets.