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India’s Manufacturing Revolution Has Just Begun

India's Communications and IT minister Kapil Sibal has publicly acknowledged the importance of technology and the need for advanced but affordable consumer electronics in the country. Sibal has recently announced that the government will be offering low-cost tablets in an effort to put them into the hands of every student and consumer who needs a mobile device.

This year, the Aakash 3 will be exclusively available from the Indian government at a nominal price of between INR1,300 and INR1,500 (US$24 to $28). The government purchases the tablets from DataWind, British manufacturer of Aakash and Aakash 2, at INR2,262 ($42) a piece. (However, SP, an EBN reader, told me that last year in January, when he applied for an Aakash 2, it was priced at INR2,999.)

The seven inches-wide Aakash 3 tablet, which functions on both Android and Linux operating systems, comes with a SIM card slot, WiFi, a faster processor than the previous generation, and improved memory capacity. This is the first in a series of Android-based tablets first manufactured by Quad Electronic Solutions, an India-based company.

Manufacturing explosion coming
A total of eight local manufacturers are going to be adding the Aakash tablet to their production lines after members of the committee of the Aakash project said they would prefer multiple vendors for the tablet. The plan is to use indigenous components in the manufacturing, instead of Chinese. As of last year, when ordering an Aakash 2 there was no certainty for when the tablet would be delivered, and the waiting time could be long. This must have pushed the government to aim at multiple vendors.

He would have gotten the innovation  arc surrounding the Aakash tablet.

He would have gotten the innovation
arc surrounding the Aakash tablet.

Indeed, the Aakash tablet is about to create a manufacturing explosion in India. Despite the big electronics players not showing much interest at the beginning, now companies like Intel are excited to become part of the project. Let's not forgot that the Aakash 3 includes a SIM card slot. Therefore, the tablet can also be used as a communications device, replacing the smartphone, and bringing the two-in-one “phablet” concept closer to users.

I hope you'll agree with me that this is great news for all-level students, schools, and low-end consumers of electronics. You might also agree that this new initiative of the Indian government not only will give a great push to education and the electronics supply chain industry, but also might become a great example for other nations. Might this be the start of a tablet-based education revolution on top of a manufacturing revolution? That's what seems to be happening, isn't it? (See: Manufacturing Tablets for Kids & Education.)

Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.”

Everything seems to indicate that the ongoing Aakash project is going to confirm Gandhi's insight.

33 comments on “India’s Manufacturing Revolution Has Just Begun

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 23, 2013

    Thanks Susan for this post on India and giving a due credit to India's great leader Mahatma Gandhi who had a vision for the future.

    But I wish to disagree on the point that ” the manufacturing revolution has just begun”

    India already has a good manufacturing base in consumer electronics, automotive electronics and industrial electronics apart from the white goods manufacturing.

    So Tablets just adds to that lsit of items currently manufactured in India.

    What India currently lacks  is the semiconductor manufacturing base – the chip foundries , for which the Indian government is putting its best effort to bring in the reputed foundries to set up their base in India.

     

  2. _hm
    March 23, 2013

    This is encouraging news for India. However, India excels only when entrepreneur takes initiatives and dedicates for new product and market. Indian governement invovlement is generally looked down upon.

    We wish it to be success. Apart from that, tablet needs very strong support for wi-fi hot spots. India has good cellular phones but I doubt about wi-fi and 3G/4G data link.

  3. Susan Fourtané
    March 24, 2013

    Prabhakar, thanks. 

    “India already has a good manufacturing base in consumer electronics, automotive electronics and industrial electronics apart from the white goods manufacturing.  So Tablets just adds to that lsit of items currently manufactured in India.” 

    Yes, I know. Thanks for a very good observation. In the title I meant “tablet manufacturing”, as it's the only product I am talking about. 🙂 Later on in the article I am talking about a tablet revolution, so I thought it was not necessary to clarify.

    Mahatma Gandhi has always been one of the true greatest thinkers in the history of the world in my book. I read his autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, that he wrote in prison.

    Since then, I have had great admiration for his thinking, his work, his spirit, the truthfulness with himself and his own thinking, his Sathyagraha (roughly translated from Sanskrit into English as firmness in Truth, and I welcome any better information about this). So, yes, I quote Gandhi's thoughts whenever I have the chance, always with deep admiration.   

    Maybe now that the government has began this initiative of manufacturing tablets in India there is a better possibility for a semiconductor manufacturing base. I would dare to say that it's quite likely to happen at some point. What do you think about this? 

    -Susan

  4. Susan Fourtané
    March 24, 2013

    _hm, 

    Do you mean India has to improve the WiFi spots in quality, in quantity, or both? 

    “India has good cellular phones but I doubt about wi-fi and 3G/4G data link”

    Why do you doubt?

    -Susan

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 24, 2013

    Susan,

    Thank you for elaborately responding to my comments.

    If we see the statement of Mr. Kapil Sibal,  and if we see the related earlier news in the local media , it seems there is an internal conflict between the ministries of the Indian Government on the this issue- the manufacturing of the low cost tablet AAkash.

    Any government initiated project in India takes much longer to materialize and many times such projects get wound up because of the political conflicts within the government departments.

    Back in 1985-86 ( pre-PC era ) when  the BBC Acorn ( the then a small and cheap educational computer developed in UK) was being promoted by the government for mass scale adoption for Indian school kids- the project did fizzle out.

    That is why there are doubts in my mind whether a revolution has begun in tablets manufacturing, in India

     

    As far as Wi-Fi networks are concerned , I think the spread of such networks is very thin as of now and mainly limited to urban areas. For tablets to become a useful medium for education in schools in rural India, the network infrastructure needs to be improved

     

     

  6. Himanshugupta
    March 24, 2013

    Susan, according to the local news the company which was suppose to provide Akash tablet has not finished even the first consignment and government has given the company one week to comply, failing which the government will take stringent action. However, given the India's political situation the Akash project was a disaster from the start. 

     

    As for India's manufacturing revolution, unless goverment is serious about providing good infrastructure and policies the manufacturing will not be as vast as in China.

  7. Himanshugupta
    March 24, 2013

    _hm, like most governments Indian goverment's policies are more for the votebank rather than real development. I say this because in India where a lot of goverment school lack basic facilities and competent teachese how a student who has a “so called tablet” will learn what to do with it. Plus if tablets are aimed for rural students then they lack internet connectivity and if tablets are aimed for urban students then they are well equipped with better alternative. So, i do not understand the wisdom behind so many mind numbing schemes.

  8. Wale Bakare
    March 24, 2013

    A misplacement of tasks prioritization and schedulability.

    While nation like India and others are suffering from lack of infrastructure, efforts and focus in putting infrastructure should only top such a nation gov's agenda.  

  9. _hm
    March 24, 2013

    @Susan: First and foremost is quantity. For rural people, at start drop for some time is ok. But overtime, that should also improve. India has very good mobile coverage, they should exploit it for 3G data.

    One important point to learn is from China. They utilised power line communication and it is very good and efficient medium. Indian government should implement this and offer it free to all citizens.

     

     

     

  10. _hm
    March 24, 2013

    @Himanshu: India should implement power line communication and offer wi-fi data (like China) to everyone free of charge. This will create revolution in usage of tablets.

  11. HM
    March 25, 2013

    China has communist in rule and India has democracy. Democracy with such high population, everyone having ther own opinion its so very difficult to get one rule set.

  12. HM
    March 25, 2013

    While India has many able ministers like Mr. Sibal who wants to bring a change in Indian education system and give everyone equal oppurtunities but the overall system is too self centred. Ofcourse manufacturing revolution has just begun in India but the wages or salaries are increasing. Also there are no good infratructures and political stability is another concern.

  13. FLYINGSCOT
    March 25, 2013

    I have often wondered why India has not become a manufacturing powerhouse in high tech.  They do a decent job in heavy industry for their domestic market but I don't know of any high tech stuff.  I am pleased to hear of this development and hope it spurs the sub continent on to even greater heights.

  14. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 25, 2013

    @Wale,

    I can't agree more. I was in India, Mumbay last December and I met smart young people there willing to take part in the development of the country. But they are powerless due to the country's leadership governance and policies. 

  15. ahdand
    March 25, 2013

    @Hospice: Not only in India, politics do ruin things in most of the countries in Asia. I think things turn worse because of politics in those countries.

  16. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 25, 2013

    @HM,

    India has yet to take advantage of its demographics. This should be an access rather than a problem. India's secret weapon may be its young population and “a growing workforce is an advantage for both the manufacturing and services sectors in India. “. You can read more here.

  17. Himanshugupta
    March 25, 2013

    @HM, there is a misplaced conception that providing free services to people will improve the living standards or quality of life in developing countries. In my opinion the problem lies in the fact that at some point or other people start to think that getting freebies from govermnet is their basic human right. The good intention becomes a huge burden on the exchequer and at the expense of real development.

  18. Himanshugupta
    March 25, 2013

    The problem in India is political will about development and regional issues getting more priority than national problems. Not to mention the huge diversity and cultures which makes things more complicated for government to pass and implement policies. 

  19. Nemos
    March 25, 2013

    It is amazing the technology you can get with such low price.It is incredible low those prices for a tablet. Those news I agree it is great especially for the low-end consumers but from the other hand I believe the competition should be on the quality and not on the prices.

  20. Nemos
    March 25, 2013

    I don't think those problems concerns the manufacturing area, sometimes we see problems that is not relative to the subject.

  21. Nemos
    March 25, 2013

    Everything needs its time, companies have China as a solution for manufacturing low-cost products, so there is not space for India as an alternative solution.

  22. Susan Fourtané
    March 26, 2013

    Prabhakar, 

    “If we see the statement of Mr. Kapil Sibal,  and if we see the related earlier news in the local media , it seems there is an internal conflict between the ministries of the Indian Government on the this issue- the manufacturing of the low cost tablet AAkash.”

    Yes, I noticed something like that reading one of the articles. I don't remember if it was India Times, or somewhere else, though.

    It's certainly a pity that due to political conflicts projects like this one can't take off faster, or sometimes be completely successful. From the distance, and according to some declarations Sibal has made to the local press, it seems to me that he could bring some change in this matter.

    But then again, I am too far from the center of the action, and I well know that sometimes the same political conflics influence greatly in what is published, and what is not. This is when your comments and insight come of great value, Prabhakar. I just dropped the ball, so to speak, 🙂 because I think it can be a game changer in tablet manufacturing. 

    “Back in 1985-86 ( pre-PC era ) when  the BBC Acorn ( the then a small and cheap educational computer developed in UK) was being promoted by the government for mass scale adoption for Indian school kids- the project did fizzle out.”

    That was bad. I would like to believe, though, that in 28 years since then things have changed a little at least. Why education always suffers the consequences of selfish political issues? 

    “That is why there are doubts in my mind whether a revolution has begun in tablets manufacturing, in India”

    Maybe it's about time you gave it an opportunity. 🙂 Just maybe it might be different this time. I would hate to be wrong, and of course I could be wrong, however, I have great expectations on this Aakash project. 

    -Susan

  23. Susan Fourtané
    March 26, 2013

    Himanshugupta, 

    ” the company which was suppose to provide Akash tablet has not finished even the first consignment and government has given the company one week to comply ” 

    Might that be the reason why the government now is thinking of having several manufacturers delivering Aakash tablets to them, instead of only one company? It would make sense to me. 

    I had the impression that the Aakash project has had several changes lately. 

    -Susan

     

  24. Susan Fourtané
    March 26, 2013

    Himanshugupta, 

    “Plus if tablets are aimed for rural students then they lack internet connectivity and if tablets are aimed for urban students then they are well equipped with better alternative.”

    What an important observation! How is the current situation of Internet connectivity? Don't you think the SIM card in the tablet will help with this situation where there is lack of connectivity in rural areas?

    -Susan 

  25. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 26, 2013

    Susan,

    Apart from the availability of connectivity, bandwidth is another serious issue.

    Just take my example, I am currently staying with my daughter in Bangalore city ( One of the most advanced city in terms of IT infrastructure). My daughter has subscribed to a 4G Wi-Fi connection which is supposed to give a 10MBPS bandwidth. However the bandwidth realized is just a fraction of it and the connectivity is so unreliable that sometimes I am unable to download a simple 20 minute video in one shot.

    I share you optimism that the manufacturing activity really picks up in India so much so that it becomes a serious competitor to China

    If the big business houses like Tatas, Birlas  and Amabni's take the plunge then it is definitely possible.

     

     

     

  26. Susan Fourtané
    March 26, 2013

    _hm, 

    I see.

    India has very good mobile coverage, they should exploit it for 3G data.”

    Yes, that's what I believe it will happen given the fact that the tablet has a SIM card. This should facilitate things. 

    -Susan

  27. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    FlyingScot, 

    Prabhakar wrote this in the first comment: 

    “India already has a good manufacturing base in consumer electronics, automotive electronics and industrial electronics apart from the white goods manufacturing.”

    Or are you referring something else you would be expecting India to be manufacturing? 

    -Susan

  28. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    HH, 

    ” India's secret weapon may be its young population and “a growing workforce is an advantage for both the manufacturing and services sectors in India. “. “

    Indeed! And not in India, but anywhere else as well. Thanks for the link to the article. 

    -Susan

  29. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    Himanshugupta, 

    ” In my opinion the problem lies in the fact that at some point or other people start to think that getting freebies from govermnet is their basic human right. “

    Some countries may not be ready for that. Some other are. General rules don't apply well. But what about giving India's population some facilities to access access to Internet, for example? Would that work better? 

    -Susan

  30. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    Nemos, 

    There are quality products that are not expensive. Quality doesn't necessarily mean pricey. There are examples of  this all over the market. 

    If  you didn't see my article on tablets for kids, check it out. Some of the prices are less than $50, making those tablets very accessible for schools. 

    -Susan

  31. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    Nemos, 

    “Everything needs its time, companies have China as a solution for manufacturing low-cost products, so there is not space for India as an alternative solution.”

    True. If they finally get the Aakash manufactured in India, as it has been planned, this might change the game. We have to wait and see how all this evolved in the next few months. 

    -Susam

  32. Susan Fourtané
    March 27, 2013

    Prabhakar, 

    The problem with the bandwidth in Bangalore doesn't sound good. 🙁  

    “I share you optimism that the manufacturing activity really picks up in India so much so that it becomes a serious competitor to China.  If the big business houses like Tatas, Birlas  and Amabni's take the plunge then it is definitely possible.”  

    I always say that everything is possible when there is still life, Prabhakar. Some things take time. 

    -Susan

  33. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 27, 2013

    @SF,

    “And not in India, but anywhere else as well”

    Agreed!

    But the younger generation can develop and prove all their entrepreneurial potential only if they are given the necessary means to achieve that goal. 

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