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$50 tablet heading for SA

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A $50 tablet device that completely altered India's tablet market will soon be heading to local shores.

This is according to Derek Kopke, executive VP of international business development at DataWind, the company behind the device.

DataWind made international headlines a few years ago when it won a tender from the Indian government to produce affordable tablets for schools. The resulting Aakash tablets, which were sold to the government at $40 each, had a large impact on India's overall tablet economy. DataWind is now the number one tablet manufacturer in the country by tablet sales, and the number of tablets in India has grown from around 250 000 to three million.

"Technology suddenly becomes affordable for the masses where it never was before," Kopke reflects.

The Aakash tablets had a knock-on effect in the global market, with a number of manufacturers across the world also starting to produce affordable devices.

There is a widespread belief that Africa, which is known as a "mobile-first" market, is in fact a mobile-only market. The argument is often made that those in rural or under-developed areas will only ever experience ICTs through a feature phone screen.

Kopke, however, disagrees. "It's just a case of the right PC at the right price," he says. "The sub-$50 tablet effectively has 95% of the PC functionality on a portable, handheld tablet."

Staying connected

Coupled with the affordable device is the need for affordable Internet access, says Kopke. While the tablets that were used in Indian schools were preloaded with the entire school curriculum (eliminating the need for printed textbooks), ubiquitous Internet access and the ability to download educational apps can also have an important impact on education.

Kopke believes DataWind will soon be able to offer free Internet access on the tablets. The company has developed a method of server-side compression that will reduce the size of Web sites by up to 30 times.

"Because we use a fraction of the amount of data that other browsers use, when you surf the Web, you're using so little data that your costs are at a point where we can earn advertising revenue on the browser that offsets the cost of data, allowing us, potentially, in very short order, to offer free mobile Internet from anywhere," he says.

DataWind is currently developing a solar-charging accessory for the tablets, which have a very limited three- to six-hour battery life.

Kopke says DataWind is aiming to make the tablets available to the South African mass market in the next couple of months.

Kopke will deliver a keynote presentation at the Tech4Africa conference, in Johannesburg next week, where he will address the importance of having ubiquitous Internet and PC access globally, and how it especially affects education within developing nations. He will speak about how the devices were manufactured and go into detail around their use for education in India.

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