From Nano to Aakash

Four years ago Tata Motors unveiled the Nano (Images). Overnight Ratan Tata became an iconic figure of auto industry. India got a unique global recognition of an industrial nation with capability of breakthrough innovation. The world recognized India’s mastery of frugal engineering, frugal manufacturing, and frugal management.

However, a number of hurdles and management’s perception about the marketing made Nano’s sales trail far behind the early expectations when it went into regular production at Sanand. Recently Ratan Tata agreed about Nano’s failure to get fast enough volume sales: “I don’t think we were adequately ready with an advertising campaign, a dealer network. The Nano is not a flop. Tata Motors failed to capitalize on the early excitement surrounding the launch of the world’s cheapest car.” Nano didn’t flood the car market as expected. May be that Indian consumers are not willing to buy the cheapest because of a status hurdle.

Another product (Image) is facing similar fate.

Few months ago, Sibal launched a very ambitious project of $35 tablet- Aakash with a lot of fanfare. It was meant to leapfrog the application of technology in education to assist the millions of school children. Datawind was the manufacturer of the tablet. IIT, Rajasthan was providing technical support and deciding on specification. However, that project is also facing an unimaginable delay or may be premature demise. Many like me are shocked and shore about these halfhearted endeavours.

Sometimes I feel like believing that while Aakash was the cheapest solution just for handling the content required for school going children. However with the acquaintance of the top end tablets such as Apple’s iPad available in the market, the users took Aakash as a toy tablet of not much use to them. However, the deficiencies pointed about was its slow speed, heating up quite quickly, poor battery life, the resistive touch-screen, and it supported only Wi-Fi access to the Internet.

Interestingly, Aakash has generated huge excitement among gadget geeks and internationally renowned columnists alike. When Datawind offered Aakash’s slightly more expensive cousin, the UbiSlate7+ online on December 14 2011, the company in less than a week got orders for 60,000 tablets.

Initially it appeared that the manufacturer was having production constraints, but now as it appears the Aakash will require major up gradation and may not reach the market pretty soon.

I wish all IITs and its scientists and engineers would have helped Aakash to succeed once announced and launched by India’s HRD Minister so proudly for the sake of the poor students who can’t afford the i-Pads or similar tablets.

As such a right tablet for the school children at even $50 is still not ready though many dreamt of having one many years ago. If Datawind is not a right vendor or the services of some other reputed manufacturers must be sought to get over the drawbacks of the Aakash and make it really useful to the student community. The burden on their back must get reduced. The learning must get interesting and wide.

The Aakash project should not end up with adding one more in the list of failed tablets. One must remember the history of Popularly known, OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), that was MIT’s Negroponte’s initiative aimed at deploying millions of rugged, ultra low-cost, individually connected laptops to children between six to 12 years of age of developing nations that lack access to such devices. Aakash must serve the same purpose for Indian schools. I wonder if all the children in rural schools are ready to use a gadget like Aakash to bring equity in education.

However, the financial result of Apple announced last week tells the huge requirement of a gadget such as i-Pads. And I could get the insight of its manufacturing in China. I wish those interested must read the stories of the wonder called i-Pads and its manufacturing, though as usual some disturbing news came about the hardships in the Chinese manufacturing companies that has become a good masala for some media men.

Indian manufacturers, be it Godrej Chhotukool or Amul Auto’s tractors, and Indian thinkers such as Vijay Govindarajan, professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, have been the pioneer in frugal engineering. India must go for a real big push to manufacturing electronics and Kapil Sibal must prove himself at least in one project.
PS: Google has 88,100,000 entries for Nano car (Images) and that for Aakash tablet (Images) 3,820,000 as on January, 2012 ar 4 PM in India.

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