The Price Point Debate

In class we discussed the feasibility of a $75 tablet computer that could be used in the OLPC program. In fact, as we have seen in other blog posts both Intel and OLPC have developed their own tablets but failed to meet the price point that Nicholas Negroponte targeted. So the question remains: is it feasible to create a tablet or laptop that can be used for educational purposes below the the $75 price point? The folks over at DataWind have definitively answered that question with the creation of the Aakash tablet which was mentioned in this post. While  both Intel and OPLC  overshot their price estimates, Aakash is offering their tablet at INR2900 INR ($60 USD) , or $35 USD  with a government subsidy.

Assuming the previous post regarding the Aakash question is correct, the question an ICT4D analyst must pose is then: What more will it take to make this technology functional?

Without going too deep into the hardware specifications, we can summarize the difficulties faced by laptops and tablets in third world companies as follows:

  • Internet connectivity limits usefulness
  • Low quality hardware is prone to defects and limits information storage
  • Harsh environments cause hardware to deteriorate
  • Hardware issues are expensive to resolve
  • Access to electricity limits use
Both OLPC and Intel have sought to solve a number of these problems with better quality hardware and thoughtful design (solar powered tablets, mesh networking on OLPC laptops). The problem is that this results in higher costs to obtain and repair.  The Aakash tablet takes a different tactic by creating hardware that is practically disposable. For less than the price of fixing the screen on an OLPC computer, you could buy a new Aakash tablet without a subsidy. Even without raising questions about the environmental sustainability of this approach, one must really wonder if this is a wise tactic. Going forward technology initiatives are going to need to acknowledge these constraints and advantages while designing hardware to ensure that the hardware matches the initiative.

About acarbone

Finance/Italian/International Development Senior at Tulane University View all posts by acarbone

2 responses to “The Price Point Debate

  • hmfraser

    It is interesting to wonder the implications of such a drastically cheaper devise. When considering the small amount of money governments are able to spend per student, does a lower tablet price really change much? As the Warschauer and Ames article mentions when considering a government like Rwanda, which “spends a total of $109 per pupil per year on primary education” does a price change to $60 really make a difference?

  • sophiwaterr

    I agree with the comment above, even if made cheap, that is not necessarily affordable. I think an organization that sent teachers, rather than computers would be much more effective. All of this money spent on technology in most cases, has been wasted and not carefully thought out. If you see the problem as students not having adequate instructors, why think that a computer is what should replace that need?
    Shouldn’t the concern be to getting teachers put in classrooms? Raise money to sponsor a teacher, not a computer.
    In the long run it seems better for all, the teacher now has an income, the children can actually learn from a human being, and charging and all the problems associated with the computer itself are less key. Yes, there are always issues when it comes to the educational system. But maybe innovation and technology are not the answer, maybe an old fashioned approach of sending real people who care (if they can be found) should be the goal.

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