For all the hype that defines the consumer electronics scene, rare is the single product that substantively changes the world. Even Apple’s iPhone – which shipped over 0.25 billion units in the first five years of its existence – may not be able to claim this accolade. But at the other end of the spectrum, a comparatively obscure Canadian entrepreneur – one Suneet Tuli – could have a better chance of truly redefining the planet we all inhabit.
Tuli – the CEO of Montreal-founded, London-headquartered electronics company Datawind – is aiming for nothing less than the empowerment of what he terms India’s ‘forgotten billion’, a demographic which, for all the giant South Asian country’s information technology prowess, is on the wrong side of the digital divide: out of a population of over 1.2bn people, India was estimated to have just 57m smartphone users in 2013. Datawind’s solution for bridging this chasm is the Aakash (‘sky’) tablet computer, a fully-functional, Internet-enabled touchscreen computer running the Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS – but with a pricing model that should enable vast numbers of Indians to join the information revolution. The Aakash Ubislate 7CX is presently available to Indian consumers for under €50.00, with even more expensive models coming in at below €100.00.
The impact of the Aakash device promises to be seismic for at least three main reasons:
1. Education. Interested parties in countries as diverse as Argentina, Senegal and Nicaragua are already investigating the educational effectiveness of the Aakash device; Datawind tablets in use in Indian schools come loaded with educational software. A sub-standard educational system – an estimated 68% of Indian students drop out before completing high school – need no longer be an insuperable barrier to getting an education in a world of accessible computing and Internet connectivity.
2. Transparency. With web-enabled tablets facilitating informational access, pressure on governments in traditionally unresponsive, top-down states is likely to build as people become yet further away of what is demonstrably possible; reform, particularly against corruption, is likely to become an imperative.
3. Multipolar Informationalism. Those who were fortunate enough to have Internet access in the 1990s will recall an electronic universe that reflected the tastes and values of an American hyperpower. However, the Internet has transformed over the past decade as billions of others have begun to log on. This dynamic of multipolar informationalism is only likely to intensify and transmogrify the Internet as we know it.