New Delhi: It was specified as a rudimentary, inexpensive tablet, but Aakash, already under attack for its poor performance, now has to meet standards set by the US military for rugged devices, including crash tests of vehicles in which they are mounted. That could spell the end of the Aakash project in its current form.
The makers of the government’s much-criticized $45 tablet say the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, imposed new, stringent standards in December that were not part of the original tender. IIT-Jodhpur was given the mandate by the ministry of human resource development (HRD) to source the first 100,000 tablets the government will distribute as part of a much-publicized project aimed at bridging the digital divide and taking computers to the masses.
According to a top government official, these new standards hew uncomfortably close to those laid down by the world’s largest makers of personal computers (PCs), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) for its series of rugged notebooks and tablet PCs—NR3600 and TR3000.
Shock test: The Aakash tablet.
“In backward research, we found that the majority of the language and the entire sequence of the standards given seem to be in toto with the HP test specifications,” the official added.
IIT Jodhpur director Prem Kalra couldn’t be reached despite several attempts. His office said that the message would be conveyed to him. HP’s comments weren’t available as of press time.
Mint’s Prashant K. Nanda says IIT Rajasthan’s stringent test criteria for the Aakash Tablet has pushed the its manufacturers into stalling supplies and complaining to the HRD ministry
HP launched the series of devices developed for the most extreme conditions in 2004 and the specifications are the copyright of Hewlett-Packard Development Co. LP. Since the standards for such devices didn’t exist at the time, HP relied on a mix of US military specifications (also referred to as “MIL-STD 810F”) for rugged devices, internal and other industry standards. When launched, in 2004, HP’s NR3600 notebook and the TR3000 tablet PC cost $4,099 and $3,449, respectively.
Doubts about the new IIT-Jodhpur test criteria emerged when the vehicle crash-testing parameters were noticed, said the senior government official cited above. “The parameter which has been given is closer to the one which is used for supersonic vehicles,” said the official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“You can’t impose US military standards on a Rs 3,000 device,” said Suneet Singh Tuli, chief executive of DataWind Ltd, which makes the device. “Unless this issue is resolved, we won’t be able to provide more devices.”
He said in an interview on Saturday that the company has registered a complaint with the HRD ministry on the issue. Meanwhile, the supply of devices has been stalled after the initial 10,000 units provided thus far.
Aakash has failed field trials for even basic computing functions.
The new standards were issued by IIT-Jodhpur in the last week of December, almost three months after the device was launched with much fanfare by Kapil Sibal, minister for HRD and communications and information technology. Tuli said the specifications were not part of the earlier tender document released by the IIT.
Mint has reviewed both standards and the only specifications absent from the IIT document relate to components not used in Aakash. There are also differences in temperature benchmarks. For instance, in one such standard for low storage temperature, HP specifies –55°C, while the IIT document specifies -20°C.
Aakash can’t be compared with machines of the calibre that are specified by HP. The first version of Aakash ran on a 366 megahertz (MHz) processor and had random access memory (RAM) of 256 megabytes, with an in-built memory of 2 gigabytes (GB), expandable up to 32GB.
The next set of Aakash tablets will be based on better specifications than the ones it started with, Tuli said. The seven-inch tablet launched in October ran on the Android 2.2 operating system, providing access to only select apps, and was the result of a plan conceived six years ago by the HRD ministry at a time when neither Android nor touch screen tablets existed. Aakash gained global attention for its next-to-impossible price point— Rs 2,276 ($45 at the time of the launch).
“This (new specifications) seems aspirational,” said Sanjiv Pandey, managing director (South Asia) at Smart technology India Pvt. Ltd, an education technology firm. “Akash has few components and is a simple product, but a rugged computer has much more components to withstand shock, dust in battleground conditions. These rugged ones need a lot of customization.”