Pie in the Sky- Aakash

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on July 06, 2013

The unveiling of Aakash 2.0 brought India in the news for its prowess in technology. The impetus behind making this cheapest tablet was to provide students with tablets that can improve the education standard. Another goal was to develop the infrastructure for hardware manufacturing. Tablets like Aakash along with Information, Communication and Technology are believed to become instrumental in India’s growth. But in this project the output received and the amount of time, energy and money inputted do not hint any kind of success. Mistakes were made; but the step forward here is to learn lessons from them.

Recent buzz and songs of praise on the making of the “cheapest” tablet–Aakash sounds like the famous song–“Pie in the Sky”. In this funny parody written during the American Labor movement, the poet Joe Hill ridiculed the Salvation Army, a paramilitary and religious organization for its concentrated efforts towards “salvation of souls” rather than solving temporal issues such as feeding the poor. Thus the idiom “Pie in the Sky” was coined; the Oxford dictionary defines it as “something that is pleasant to contemplate but is very unlikely to be realized”.

In the jubilation of successful make of India’s cheapest tablet Aakash, somewhere we lost the promises that were made and the expectations that were set. The project was to arm students with affordable tablets that can uplift the education system. And the project was to kick-start development of infrastructure for computer hardware manufacturing. Little impact after three-year long episode and Government’s huge investment brought the achievements of this project into questions. Is the tablet really cheap? Have we really achieved any goal or was it just a pie in the sky?

Everything started with a very noble thought – $100 laptop per child proposed by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab. Indian Government thought of improving the idea by designing a tablet priced at as low as $35. Though it seemed challenging, it was very much possible given India’s expertise in “Jugaad” better known as “Frugal Innovation”. The research work started at IIT Rajasthan in 2009. In February of 2011, Datawind won the tender for delivering 100,000 tablets at a bidding amount of $4.7 million. Datawind did not have a good reputation suggested by its only product – Pocket Surfer that was mired with many quality level issues. 6440 Aakash tablets were delivered to IIT Rajasthan but out of these, only 572 made their way to students. Though Government funded 25 crore rupees for this project, all “Aakash” broke loose.

After the fiasco of Aakash, the project went ahead with a design of new product - Aakash 2.0 which is expected to be of better quality. In November 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon unveiled the tablet. And the world acknowledged India for its indigenous and genius effort. But among these feelings of achievement and euphoria, we must not forget to revisit the facts. Is what we have achieved really worth of fifty crore rupees? And is what we are about to achieve worth of 756 crore rupees? If we consider these one-time costs then can we really say the Aakash tablet the “cheapest”?

The scope of such initiative is vast and enormous as long as we learn from our past mistakes. Acknowledgement of such mistakes must be the first and foremost step. From the inception of the project to the launch of Aakash 2.0, many mistakes were made at operation and management level. First the capability and history of the company Datawind must have been considered before allowing such companies to participate in the tendering process. Allowing a Canada-UK based company to bid questions the objective of empowering India in the hardware manufacturing. Again the image of this novel initiative was tarnished as it got itself embroiled in the controversy of “made in China”. Haphazard and non-standardized process along with information dissymmetry costed Indian Government millions of rupees as deliverables from Datawind were lost. When IIT Rajasthan is claiming to collect only 6440 tablets out of 100,000 ordered tablets, Datawind is refuting the allegation. Distribution of less than 600 tablets to institutions and months of order lead time indicates complete breakdown of the distribution system. Aakash tablet was loaded with twenty four applications out which none were education centered; this shows the mismatch between the value proposition and the real value delivered.

Will the stumble prevent a fall?  Hope the mistakes are acknowledged and lessons are learnt. How much uncomforting the facts might sound few good things definitely happened. The project helped develop an ecosystem for tablet apps and hardware manufacturing. Most of the hardware components were manufactured outside India for the project Aakash. But the components were assembled in Hyderabad. Though the task is not challenging, it helped build a platform upon which a rocket could be launched in the future. Changes in the curriculum at IIT Bombay, extensive research work on the tablet platform had successfully created a nascent eco-system.

Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) can be solution for many problems. Tele-teaching and education video conferencing are probable solutions to the problem of shortage of teachers. In city transportation system, ICT can be used for disseminating vehicle scheduling information, regulating bus traffic and increasing fuel efficiency. Mom and pop retail marketers can use ICT to manage inventory. In the field of agriculture, E-Choupal is an exemplary outcome of ICT. Development of the ICT ecosystem is comparatively easier in India because of its strength in Information Technology. But the efficacy of all these projects depends on how effectively the service can be reached to the targeted individuals. This requires a portal or device stationed at every individual reach, which is a costly affair. And this makes the task more challenging for the weak financial health of Indians. Here comes the affordable tablet into the picture, which can act as a vehicle for ICT.

Tablets and ICT cannot be a panacea to all problems in hand but sure it can ameliorate most of them. How effective that would be depends on how efficiently the whole system works. Blindly putting in money does not guarantee the success; understanding the economy, keeping track of operation, learning from past experiences, perseverance and patience are the keys to success. The “Aakash” is full of dreams. We just need to take one step at a time.

This is article has been authored by Sangramkm from IIM Ahmedabad


  1. Government allocates Rs. 765 crores for the Aakash project. http://aakash.org.in. Accessed 12th January 2012.
  2. Less than 600 Aakash tablets distributed so far! http://aakash.org.in. Accessed 12th January 2012.
  3. Government looks to build a software ecosystem for Aakash applications. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com. Accessed 12th January 2012.
  4. PocketSurfer 2. http://www.cnet.com.au. Accessed 12th January 2012.

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