What was supposed to be a $10 laptop, unveiled by the government yesterday, has turned out to be nothing of the sort.

What is it Really?
The devices controversial price and mysterious lack of photos or videos had us doubting its existence and capability. Specifications available of the device offer only a dim picture – a 2 GB onboard memory with Wi-Fi, USB ports and a very economical power consumption of 2 Watts. Previously, Engadget had reported that it also has fixed Ethernet. Processors are costly technology. Over it, adding Wi-Fi capability and an LCD screen would easily overstep the budget for a full fledged laptop. It all sounded like mere hot air.

Sakshat is not even a laptop, according to TOI. The device unveiled at Tirupaati was a USB storage device with a 2GB capacity, dimensions of 10×5 inches and a price of $30. Further, it was apparently built by engineering students from Vellore Institute of Technology in collaboration with scientists from the Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT), who have been working on the project for three years, a blogger at ITVoir noted. The Hindu has a photo of the device, here.

Price-less

Arjun Singh, Union Minister for Human Resources Development, showcased the “laptop” at an unusual location – the Tirupati temple. Ten dollars or Rs 400, is cheaper than the cost of a mobile today. There’s some ambiguity regarding the price as well: In July 2008, Minister of State for Human Resource Development D Purandeswari announced the laptop would cost as low as $10 (Rs 400) and would target the student community. The government later clarified through iGovernment.in that the $10 figure was a mistake caused by a typo and that the price was actually $100. But more reports over the past 2 days pegged it again at the $10 figure. PCWorld says the gadget will cost $20 initially and will sell for $10 once production ramps up.

In the official government communications – here and here – the gadget is not mentioned. Sakshat, according to them, is an e-learning portal. PTI has quoted Higher Education Secretary R.P. Agrawal as saying that the “laptop” would be available within six months and its cost was 10 US dollars. “If the parents want to gift something to their kids, they can easily purchase this item,” he is reported to have said. 

Who built it?
When Purandeswari announced Sakshat as the world’s cheapest “laptop”, she had said it was being researched at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras. The University Grants Commission figures in some reports as being a joint developer as does the state-controlled Semiconductor Complex.

What real low-cost-computers cost

In comparison, the XO by One Laptop Per Child foundation costs $188. The XO laptop runs on Linux and has a 7.5 inch TFT display. It also comes with Wi-Fi and a keyboard. The laptop is powered by an AMD processor and has 256 MB RAM. 

The ClassmatePC by Intel costs $300 and can run commercial software. It has a durable, plastic clam-shell encasing. It runs on a 900 Mhz Intel Celeron M processor, 256 MB of RAM, and an embedded version of Windows XP.

Novatium’s NetPC, a Linux-based thin client that ships minus a monitor and accessories, was also designed for students. Priced at $100, the device runs on a mobile processor and requires a screen, a keyboard, mouse and speakers to complete the set up.

Qualcomm’s rural PC design – Kayak – runs on less than 5 Watts of power and can be used for 3 – 5 hours without a battery. It is similar to NetPC except that it is 3G compatible and can work on EVDO or HSDPA. The Kayak will cost Rs 10,000.

Services

The storage device is somehow expected to play a key role in a new government initiative called the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technologies. The mission entails setting up of electronic classrooms and making online textbooks freely available for download across 18000 colleges and 4000 universities across India. Four publishers Macmillan, Tata McGraw Hill, Prentice-Hall and Vikas Publishing have been engaged to upload textbooks and content for students.

The device will be launched at University of Andhra Pradesh and later at hundreds of schools and colleges through the program. The government also plans to offer a 25 percent subsidy for broadband internet for private and public colleges and has earmarked Rs 46.12 billion for the program.

Low cost PCs could be a part of the solution to improving education and rural economy, but the lack of infrastructure and relevant local language applications and accessories will continue to remain barriers.

Our Verdict

Much was promised, very little was delivered. FAIL.