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Aakash tablet unveiled at UN

November 29
03:47 2012

Suneet Singh Tuli, right, CEO of Datawind, presents U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an Aakash2 tablet during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has lauded India as a “super-power” in the field of information technology as he unveiled the country’s first indigenously created low-cost Aakash 2 tablet here.

The tablet was showcased at the UN headquarters yesterday on the occasion of the India’s current Presidency of the UN Security Council.

CEO of Datawind, maker of the Aakash tablet, Suneet Singh Tuli, presented the device to the UN chief who voiced appreciation for the tablet for being “small and handy.”

“India is a critical player on security issues, but you are also a leader on development and technology. Indeed, India is a super-power on the information superhighway. There is a reason places like Hyderabad are called ‘Cyberabad’,” Ban said in his remarks.

The UN chief said he is aware that ‘Aakash’ means ‘sky’ in Hindi and called on nations to work with the UN to help young people “reach for the sky and meet their dreams.”

He said technology is not an end in itself but is the key to empower people to make the most of their own potential.

“Information and communications technologies are engines of economic growth and development and can help transform people’s lives. They are great enablers, helping people communicate across distances, facilitating trade and commerce and providing better access to health care and education,” he said.

Ban said technology is being used in innumerable ways around the world to improve the lives of people but the challenge is to leverage the power of technology and bridge the digital divide.

The controversy

Datawind CEO Tuli said he is “proud” that certain components of the low-cost tablet were sourced from Beijing as he dismissed the controversy over the issue as “sensationalism”.

The $40 tablet ran into controversy after reports surfaced that parts of the device, like the motherboard, were manufactured in China and only the final assembly and programming was done in India.

“Over the last 72 hours I have dealt with this controversy that the Aakash tablet is not 100 per cent made in India. Why is that a controversy,” Tuli said in response to questions about certain components of the tablet sourced globally.

He said certain parts of the Aakash 2 tablet were secured globally, including the touchscreen which was manufactured in Canada, motherboards and kitting from China and the final assembly and programming in India.

“Parts of the tablet are made in different parts of the world. I am proud that the motherboard and kitting is done in China. I am proud that we are setting up six manufacturing facilities in India with six different partners,” Tuli said.

The India-born chief of Datawind said the controversy exists because he was the only proponent who had proposed that the tablet be made locally.

“Because I have been a big proponent of local manufacturing, that is why this controversy exists. China and India are neighbors. China is part of the global community.

In my mind there is no controversy, all that there is sensationalism,” Tuli said.

Tuli termed the Aakash tablet as a story not just of Indian innovation, but “a story of global innovation led by India, an idea that the Indian government decided to aggressively implement.

Datawind had said that for the first 10,000 units for IIT, and for the sake of “expediency”, the motherboards and kits were manufactured in its Chinese subcontractor’s facilities.

The units were ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers while the final assembly and programming happened in India.

Tuli said “too much is being made” about the sourcing of parts from China.

“If the customer does not have any objection to it, why should anybody else have any objection to it. We are the ones who have been pushing everybody to make more of the tablet in India. People who doubt that this can be done in India should not have an inferiority complex,” Tuli said.

“We need to focus on the opportunity that exists. Just because some components were made in China to get started should not cause anybody any great concern,” Tuli told PTI.

He added that it may not be possible to manufacture the entire tablet solely in India as certain components need to be procured from different parts of the world.

“Greater effort needs to be made for local manufacturing,” he said.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri, who organized the launch of the tablet at the world body, said when the Indian government had floated the global tender for the tablet, there was not any stipulation that it had to be made entirely in India.

“Nowhere does it say this is an Aakash 2 tablet made in India exclusively or even partially. It is a very poor attempt at orchestrating a controversy when you realize that the Aakash 2 was going to be showcased in New York,” Puri said.

China’s Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong also attended the event with Puri saying his Chinese counterpart came for the launch of the tablet “to show his solidarity.”

Puri said he decided to utilize India’s presidency to showcase the tablet only after getting confirmation that President Pranab Mukherjee would be unveiling the tablet in India.

Tuli said the product is being made at a price that no one had thought would be possible and as time goes by, “we will manufacture more in India.”

“I wish those people who are unhappy with it can show me the 100 per cent Indian-made products they use,” he said, adding that the computers on which reports of parts of Aakash being sourced from China were being written also have been made in China.

Tuli said India’s first touchscreen panel plant is being set up in Amritsar and it is expected to be fully functional within the next 30 days with an initial capacity of three million units.

Once the plant becomes operational, touchscreens which are currently manufactured in Canada would be made in India.

“We are big believers in local manufacturing and in vertical integration of manufacturing. We believe that over time, within the next year as the touchscreen manufacturing happens in India, the motherboards will also be made in India.

China and other countries around the world will play a role in providing components and other value adds to the product.

“This is a global story,” he said.

Tuli said he is targeting to bring down the price of the tablet from 40 dollars to 25 dollars in the next 18 months.

“Nobody thought it was possible to build a tablet PC in this price range. This requires a form of frugal innovation that is unique to India and developing countries. Frugal innovation does not mean creating an iPad killer. It is about creating an iPad for the ‘rickshaw-wala’ and for the mass of the market,” Tuli added. -PTI

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