Updated: Mon, 3 Dec 2012 7:57 IST
Indi-genius AKASH 2 Tablet
Conceived as a nationalist dare, Aakash unwittingly reveals the give-and-take of globalisation
After India proudly presented the Aakash 2 tablet for inspection at the UN, Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon congratulated it for being a tech superpower. Aakash is still being sold as a story of Indian engineering and policy imagination, though it is clear that the tablet is, in fact, less than fully indigenous. Even Datawind admits that several parts, including motherboards, were made in China, and only the final assembly was done in India.
The point is not to ridicule Aakash, which is a pioneering effort in affordable computing, the latest in a line of initiatives to bring a cheap-and-best device to the underserved. While the market usually takes care of the bottom of the pyramid, given the obvious opportunity, the state can also catalyse and support these efforts, and nudge innovation into useful directions. However, the very premise of Aakash was a nationalistic dare — it was an “anything you can do, we can do better” rebuff to One Laptop Per Child, a boast that it could produce a laptop at $10, then a tablet at $35, though even that with a heavy subsidy. Much of its hardware may have been sourced from around the world, and it runs on Android, but its marketing was rife with appeals to homegrown genius.
Aakash, then, has unwittingly become an object lesson in globalisation and comparative advantage. It makes sense all around, and drives down costs for consumers, for nations to specialise in areas where they have an edge. If China is a more efficient electronics manufacturing hub, India can chip in with something else. The goal of providing an entry-level computing device is best kept separate from chest-puffing about Indian inventiveness.