$25 tablets, $2 mobile data plans, and zero margins–how the internet is about to gain 3 billion new users

Cell Phones Tablets
CHRISTOPHER MIMS || QUARTZ || NOVEMBER 2012

A conversation with Suneet Tuli

Six billion cell phone subscriptions are spread across five billion of the earth’s seven billion people, says Suneet Tuli, CEO of Datawind, maker of the world’s cheapest tablet computer. Yet only two billion people are connected to the internet, which means three billion people have everything they need to connect to the internet—except a suitable device.

“Are they lacking electricity?” asks Tuli. “Of course not–if you’ve got a cell phone, you’ve got some way of charging it. Are they lacking networks? No. If you’ve got a cell phone, you’ve got some way of being connected to it. So what is really left? What is left is affordability. A computer costs three or four hundred bucks, and a cell phone costs thirty or forty bucks. But what happens if a basic computing device that’s reasonably usable gets down to that price point?”

That’s the experiment that Tuli’s company, Datawind, is conducting in India and, hopefully, across the globe.

When I last spoke to him a few weeks ago, Tuli was in Mumbai for the launch of the 7-inch Aakash 2 tablet, a functional but basic device able to accomplish all the things you’d normally expect of an Android tablet. The Indian government has already ordered 100,000 of them, of which 20,000 have been delivered, while an additional 280,000 have been manufactured and are at some stage in the process of being shipped to private citizens who have ordered them online. Now Tuli is in New York for a second unveiling of the tablet, this time at the UN, where ambassadors from all 193 member countries will receive tablets as part of India’s effort to show off its “frugal innovations” for the developing world.

What’s changed since Tuli and I last spoke is that he has firmed up his estimates for when his tablet will be available at a price that renders it nearly disposable: $25 within 12 months. More importantly, he’ll hardly be the only one offering 7″ tablets at that price. >>READ MORE

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