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BW Businessworld

Headwind Ahead For DataWind

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DataWind, a small London-based company and the maker of the low-cost tablet Aakash, has finally come out with its latest series of commercial tablets — Ubislate 7+ – a good three months after it had thrown open the process of pre-paid bookings.

The Ubislate 7 series comes loaded with functionalities of a smartphone (embedded with GPRS modems in addition to WiFi connectivity). Though the company had managed to record pre-bookings for over 3 million units including a small percentage of advance payment bookings since December 2011, there is uncertainty over DataWind's ability to honour the supply commitments.

After terminating its contract with Hyderabad-based Quad Electronics, DataWind picked another sub-contractor VMC Systems to meet the demand, but it seems that individual customers as well as IIT Bombay (on behalf of the government) might as well get ready for a long wait to realize their dreams of owning the low-cost computing device.

While the company has started to deliver the Ubislate 7+ devices to the advance booking orders on a priority basis, it first has to supply 1 lakh units to the Indian government. According to Chief Executive Suneet Singh Tuli, DataWind will first provide 100 units to IIT Bombay for testing in the next one to two weeks. "Once they (IIT Bombay) give the confirmation (approval after testing the first set), within 90-120 days all 1 lakh units will be supplied," Tuli added.

According to reports, VMC has procured components to assemble 1 lakh ultra-low cost tablets. The company, however, needs a production capacity way above that number to satiate the combined demand of individual customers, who have pre-paid for the device and the government.

Tuli said the company is ramping up its capacity for its commercial series in anticipation of growing demand, and has the capability to tweak the commercial product to Aakash II standards in order to supply to the government order, if the need arises.

He further added Datawind is in talks with sub-contracting parties to set-up 3-4 device manufacturing plants in India in the next 90 days to supply the 1 lakh units. Tuli said the company is trying to negotiate with a number of existing device manufacturers with some based in Hyderabad, Cochin, Ahmedabad and Noida.
Despite consistent efforts on part of DataWind to dispel the skepticism around its ability to deliver on its promise, the current state of affairs indicate that DataWind has bitten more than what it can chew.

Aakash, termed as the world's cheapest tablet PC, was launched in October last year by Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal. It comes with a price tag of mere Rs 2,276 whereas the high-end tablet PC will cost anything between Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,000.Aakash is be supplied to students at a subsidised rate of Rs 1,500.

In February, Telecom and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said Datawind will not be associated with it anymore and the Government has roped in C-DAC and ITI in further development of the tablet computer.

"There have been some problem with Datawind I must confess. Therefore, I have got into the act. IT Ministry has got C-DAC and ITI into the act and I am going to ensure that this product is fully indigenous and truly an Indian product," he said. He also said Akash II will be launched in 2012.

On April 17, Sibal said many foreign companies have shown interest in manufacturing the second version of the low-cost tablet Aakash 2 in India.

"We have invited companies from across the world for manufacturing and many are ready to manufacture it here," Sibal told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of World IT Forum 2012.