BANGALORE, India—The proposed low-cost tablet for educational purposes, "Aakash" (or sky) officially launched in October, has been mired in controversy from the start.
Monday (April 16), the situation got even more complicated with Datawind Ltd., the original winner of the Aakash contract, stating that the company is still in the running for the second and better version of the $35 tablet.
Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of Datawind, said some sections of the media were sensationalizing the company in a negative manner while others have reported that Quad Electronics Pvt. Ltd., the Hyderabad-based contract manufacturer building the tablet for Datawind, has gone to court to claim its rightful dues.
Datawind appointed Quad to make the tablets on its behalf. But Datawind retained the tablet's intellectual property.
"There have been reports in a section of media about Datawind being served a legal notice for non-payment of dues by its assembly partner Quad Electronics Solutions," Tuli said. "The assembler further alleges that Datawind could not work with the government and did not abide by the contract with Quad. The assembler vendor also accuses Datawind of reneging on its promises to customers."
According to Tuli, Quad breached Datawind's intellectual property, circumvented Datawind's relationship with the Indian Institute of Technology-Rajasthan (IIT-R), signed a direct memorandum of understanding with IIT-R and sold its Aakash inventory on the open market. "Datawind has since appointed new partners to assemble the tablet," Tuli said.
Currently, however, the situation is a murky one. Kapil Sibal, the minister for communications and information technology had last month said that Datawind is out of the running for the improved version of the product, but Indian ministers are known to go back on their word.
A representative of onne Indian company that is a contender in case a fresh contract is called for said that the murkiness of the project is so much now, and no one is sure of what the status of the project is at present.
So, even as several new companies have announced their tablets at various prices for the Indian market—encouraged by the enthusiasm evident at the launch of the Aakash—it could be too early to dismiss Tuli's statement that "Datawind has full confidence of the Government and is working on the second generation of the tablet."
Meanwhile, according to Naveen Mishra, lead telecom analyst at Cybermedia Research, about 475,000 media tablets were sold in India during 2011.
"In India the media tablet has very quickly metamorphosed from being a 'premium' or 'luxury' product for the select few, to one that has appeal to a wide range of customer segments such as business executives, advertising and media professionals and students, to name a few," Mishra added.