DataWind Rides High On Aakash Mania; But Will It Deliver?

DataWind Rides High On Aakash Mania; But Will It Deliver?

When anyone mentions the word Tablet, the first thing that comes to mind is Apple's iPad. That is the power of the innovator brand. But not everyone can afford the hefty price tag that accompanies the high-end product. Enter a Canadian firm DataWind, run by an entrepreneur of Indian origin, with its breakthrough pricing and a low-cost Tablet called Aakash.

Initially, Aakash was being pitted as an exclusive Tablet for students but one month ago, the company made it available for online purchase. What followed next was something no one, including the CEO of the company, could have predicted. In just over a week it got flooded with orders for over 1 million units (bulk of it for the a relatively upgraded version Ubislate, more about that here)

The demand for the Tablet is not limited to India since educational institutions from countries such as Thailand, Turkey, among others have also showed interest in the device and the company plans to export the product once the demand in India is met.

In an interview with Business Standard, Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind said the company was expecting to sell around 2.5 lakh units a year, but looking at the demand; it is now eyeing more than 4 lakh units a month. Tuli has apparently been approached by investors valuing the firm at Rs 300-500 crore. The plan is to dilute up to 15 per cent stake and then go for IPO after two rounds of financing. He also mentioned that the company is looking to generate around $ 400-500 million in revenues by the end of 2012.

Back of the envelope calculations shows that would translate into unit sales of over 8 million units since Aakash costs Rs 2,500 and UbiSlate comes at Rs 3,000 a piece. This looks pretty optimistic by any standard. But we can't argue the power of disruptive pricing and appetite for digital products in India.

Now The Flip Side

All of this sounds very nice but we can't help be a little sceptical about the whole situation. We agree that the initial demand for the product is huge, but let's not forget that when for the first time Tata introduced the common man's car, Nano it was a rage among the people in the country and even abroad. People piled up to order the car and the company received so many orders that the waiting list for the car stretched to over a year. Many experts predicted that people riding on two-wheelers will opt for the car instead and it will solve the problems a common man (like travelling in the rainy seasons or family outing).

Rest is history. Technical problems with the product resulted in product recall of over 1 lakh Nano's. Sure, purists would complain comparing a car and a Tablet is not fair, but we think the analogy sticks given the euphoria around both the low cost products.

What if Aakash turns out to be the same? First of all the Tablet has a resistive touch screen (remember the original BlackBerry Storm) which is actually very annoying to use. Then the fact that it is powered by a 366 MHz processor (less than one third of what is standard in Tablets these days) and comes with 256MB of RAM (one fourth of what is standard) means that it will be very slow in its functioning. Also, since the Tablet has not been made available to a large number of people, there is very little clarity on the functionality of the Tablet (although few responses we could gather our hands on have mostly been negative, here's one).

Since we haven't used an Aakash personally (had ordered the Tablet last month but still haven't received one), we cannot provide you a detailed review of the Tablet but for the sake of the many people who have ordered the Tablet (including us), we hope that it does not end up being a disappointment (fingers crossed).

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