The world’s cheapest tablet is about to become the world’s cheapest phablet

Now hold it to your face.
Now hold it to your face.
Image: AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
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DataWind, the company behind the $40 tablet, this week finished shipping 100,000 devices to the Indian Institute of Technology. It’s been quite a journey. But DataWind’s founders are already working on the next iteration, called Aakash 3, and it has one significant upgrade: a place to stick a SIM card, so it can connect to cellular networks.

DataWind’s pitch for the new Aakash 3 goes like this: “An internal cellular modem at no additional cost, which allows the device to be used both as a mobile smart phone and also for ubiquitous internet connectivity with a basic SIM, will help herald India’s internet revolution.”

That may well be true. Access and price are two of the main factors driving the growth of mobile broadband. Cheap devices and data plans are increasingly the only way to gain market share in India—and, indeed, in much of the world. A recent report about the use of Opera Mini, a web browser for mobile phones, found that 9 of the top 10 handsets using the software, mostly from Samsung, cost less than 10,000 rupees ($185). That’s still a high upper limit, but domestic firms such as Micromax and Karbonn dominate the sub-$100 market and are rapidly gaining overall market share.

The Indian government plans to sell the Aakash 2 for educational and development purposes at the subsidised rate of $20. (It’s about as powerful as the original iPad but also has slots for USB and MicroSD devices, a camera, and twice the memory.) If the government also subsidized the Aakash 3 with a voice-and-data enabled version, that would make it the cheapest phablet in existence. Not that phablets need any extra help to become the world’s most ubiquitous computing devices.