Akash – the $20 tablet (after subsidy of course) – is being touted as the lowest cost tablet and an indigenous Indian product. Well, it turns out to be anything but.
Apparently, it is ONLY being sold in India! It is manufactured and assembled in China.
DataWind, the Canada-based company that won a government contract to produce the first 100,000 Aakash tablets, which are bound for India’s colleges and universities, “does only sales,” said Li Junhao, the president of Trend Grace, a company based in Shenzhen that is one of several Chinese manufacturers making Aakash-2 tablets, according to invoices sent to DataWind that were reviewed by India Ink.
“The tablets we sell to DataWind are ready to be sold. They are finished, ready-to-use products,” Mr. Li said in a telephone interview. He added: “All parts are made in China. We buy the touch screen from a Chinese manufacturer and make the rest of the parts ourselves. We then assemble the tablets into finished products. We aim to ensure products imported from China are of high quality and are considering the use of production inspection services such as the Jonble company to oversee this.”
Executives from two other Chinese companies who were interviewed also said they assembled Aakash-2 tablets in China.
And if Datawind’s Suneet Tuli is to be believed, the design is from his Canada based company. He does try to play down the “Made in China” thing though.
“The current Aakash-2 product is designed by us,” Mr. Tuli told India Ink in an e-mailed response to questions Saturday. He said the touch screen of the tablet was being manufactured by DataWind’s facility in Montreal, Canada, and that his company had designed the software, mechanical parts and motherboard.
For a first shipment of 10,000 Aakash-2 tablets, sent to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in recent weeks, “for expediency sake we had the motherboards and kits manufactured in our Chinese subcontractor’s facilities, and then the units have been ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers,” Mr. Tuli said. The assembly and programming of the units was done at DataWind’s facility in Amritsar and at a Delhi office, he said Monday.
Now, his assertion is nonsensical really. So, if the touch screen is being manufactured in Montreal, Canada – how the hell can the tablet cost $45?? And if you are getting your first 10,000 tablets all manufactured and assembled in China, that means you don’t have any capabilities installed in India to do so as yet. Including the replacing of Canadian touchscreens of course!
The point is not that if and what portion is made outside India. The question is of integrity. Akash is being touted as the Indian tablet that is the cheapest in the world and a boon to the education. It very well might be. But the key to its cost is NOT with India. That lies with the Chinese manufacturers.
But the low cost is NOT due to Indian talent or resources – but because Indian Government is NOT charging import duty AND subsidizing the product! So, the middle class tax payer – who is gloating in pride – is the one who is paying for the tablet really.