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DataWind boss reveals secret behind US$35 tablet

Nestor Arellano | Jan. 9, 2012
Four hundred thousand, that was the number of units pre-ordered in October last year by people eager to get their hands on the commercial version of the Aakash Tablet, the world's cheapest tablet device, slated for release this month by Montreal-based tech upstart DataWind Inc.

Four hundred thousand, that was the number of units pre-ordered in October last year by people eager to get their hands on the commercial version of the Aakash Tablet, the world's cheapest tablet device, slated for release this month by Montreal-based tech upstart DataWind Inc.

The government of India is expected to order up to 2 million units of the Aakash, which the government intends to sell to Indian students at the subsidized price of about $35.

The Android 2.2 powered, 7-inch touchscreen tablet created a global stir when it was announced late in 2011 that the device would sell for a mere $35. Its commercial version, the Ubislate 7, runs on the more current Android OS 2.3 and comes with amenities such as HD video playback, faster WiFi connectivity, and phone features. It will retail for about $60 -- still $139 cheaper than the Kindle Fire.

Online pre-orders for both devices has been so massive that DataWind's Web site crashed and still has some technical issues today.

"Response to the products in the last few months has been fantastic and overwhelming," said Suneet Singh Tuli, the 43-year-old CEO of DataWind. "Back in July last year, even I myself wrote a blog saying that a $35-tablet is impossible to build."

Today DataWind is able to manufacture the Aakash at prices below $35/unit, he says. The Indian government buys the tablet from the company for $49.98 and resells it for the subsidized cost of $35/unit.

The quest for the ultra cheap tablet began in early 2011 when the Indian government put out a tender for a nationally subsidized tablet for the masses that would also help the government provide Internet access to its citizens (only 10 per cent of Indians have Web access).

DataWind, with offices in Montreal; Mississauga, Ont.; London, UK; and Amritsar, India, beat out a handful of other companies that bid for the contract.

Tuli, relates how he, his older brother Raja (DataWind's chief technology officer) and a multi-cultural team of Canadians and immigrant technicians at the DataWind office in Montreal managed the feat, which many including their bid competitors thought was impossible.

DataWind's winning strategy could be instructive of how other small and medium sized businesses engaged in other markets can hit pay dirt in an otherwise crowded arena, according to Tuli who also happens to live in Toronto.

Here are Tuli's tips:

Sell to the masses

Sell to masses, live with the classes. In Canada that line has been associated with Ed Mirvish. However this is also the winning strategy of DataWind.

While device makers such as Apple, Sony, Samsung, HP and RIM go after the mid to high level income consumers, companies like DataWind target the lower income bracket in markets like China, Asia, India, with low-cost gadgets.

 

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