India and Bangladesh have launched their own brands of tablet and laptops, at unthinkably low prices. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched Doel, a brand of netbooks and laptop that will be manufactured entirely in Bangladesh, on October 11. Distribution will reportedly start this week. They will be available from 10,000 takas (US$131), according to the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency. "This is a big step towards building a digital Bangladesh," Mohammad Ismail, managing director of state-owned Telephone Shilpa Sangstha (TSS), which is in charge of making the gadgets, said following Doel's launch. At present, 90% of the laptop equipment is imported, "but within six months we will be able to produce 40% of the components," he said. Doel's launch comes a few days after the introduction in India of the Aakash tablet, the cheapest of its kind at $49.98 on October 5. Supporting web browsing and video conferencing with a three-hour battery life and two USB ports, Aakash (meaning "sky" in Hindi and Bengali) is targeted at the country's students in the hope that it will help to reduce the digital divide between rich and poor. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal handed out 500 Aakash tablets to students during the launch of the product in Delhi. He said the Indian government would buy 100,000 of the tablets, designed by DataWind and made in the southern city of Hyderabad, and hopes to "distribute 10 million of the devices to students over the next few years". In Bangladesh, TSS has already made around 6,000 laptops and netbooks that will be available for sale from this week.
It is prepared to assemble around 10,000 to 11,000 laptops or 15,000 netbooks a month, the decision to produce more will be made "following market demand assessment". Named after the national bird of Bangladesh, the project behind Doel was launched in early 2009 and is a part of the government's vision for a "Digital Bangladesh 2021", under which it plans to connect all parts of the country through information and communicational technology devices. "Every part of the country will be brought under e-governance, while the telecommunication system is being modernized to cut the digital divide," Sheikh Hasina said during Doel's launch ceremony. In her speech, she looked forward to "the near future" when children would no longer need to carry their books to school, but only their "netbooks, which will have all the information and lessons that they will study in school". Doel was initially to be provided to government employees, with teachers and staff at public academic institutions a priority, but as no demand draft has been received from the government, TSS will sell directly to the local market. Of the three Doel netbooks and laptop, the 10,000 taka Primary notebook model runs on the Android operating system, has a 800MHz VIA 8650 processor, 512MB RAM, 16GB flash memory, Wi-Fi, a 10.1-inch (1024 x 600) LCD screen, webcam, SD card reader, and two USB ports.
The Advanced model, has a 2.13 GHz Pentium P6200 processor, a14-inch (1366 x 768) WXGA LED backlight screen, 2GB DDR RAM, 320GB Sata memory, a DVD writer, Wi-Fi, 1.3 mega pixel webcam, and comes at 26,000 takas ($342). That is more expensive than some foreign brands that sell netbooks at as low as 19,500 takas and laptops at around 30,000 takas. In India, the price of the Android-based Aakash has been affected by "the replacement warranty attached to it", according to DataWind. It can be made at a cost of 1,750 rupees (US$35) a unit, but the warranty requirement has driven up its sale price by about $14. "The government has asked for a special replacement warranty, it has asked us not to repair it," chief executive officer Suneet Singh Tuli told the Press Trust of India. "You will have to replace it ... which is a big cost." DataWind plans to offer a commercial version of the tablet, calling it UbiSlate, which is expected to be in the shops this year with a retail price of about $60. A BBC report last week gave the Aakash plus points for its low price, slim size, light weight and memory card slots. On the down side were an "inferior" touch screen, low battery life and limited applications. Still, the Aakash is at least available to users. In 2009, the Indian government raised widespread interest with plans to make a laptop, dubbed the Sakshat, priced as low as $10. Later, the device turned out to be a prototype handheld device (whose price was not even mentioned) that in the event did not materialize.