The Simputer

This week’s article, “Connecting the First Mile”, mentioned an ICT project called the Simputer. The author cites the Simputer as an “accessible device” for the poor and a good example of a product that takes into account the infrastructural difficulties in developing countries. Since the article was written in 2004, I decided to look up the Simputer and see what exactly it is now and how the project has fared over time.

The Simputer was developed by engineers in India specifically for use in rural areas and was designed as a low cost option that would allow computer access to many of the nation’s poor. Due to difficulties in finding a manufacturer, the Simputer wasn’t released until 2004, well after the initial hype in 2002. Although Simputer’s website states that it can be shared by a community using their Smartcard technology, the product’s cost of $240 proved to be too much for most of its original target market. Initial projections were hopeful that 50,000 Simputers would be sold in the first year, but only 4,000 were ever bought (BBC News 2004). Additionally, many of the buyers were on-the-go, young professionals, not the poor rural families that the Simputer was made for.

From the articles I read, the Simputer is seen by most as a failed initiative, and similar projects by the Indian government have not been any more successful,

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5 responses to “The Simputer

  • pkrause439

    I find failed technologies really interesting. This seems almost like an example of a product placement type of failure, where a solution was thought of and designed, but really didn’t end up to be the right tool for the job. It would be helpful to see if other examples of a cheap computer product placement was successful elsewhere.

  • TIM0603

    Even though Simputer looks easy and cheap enough to meet the needs. But compatibility with different system platforms determines the failure of communication in development as well.

  • aspiros01

    Do you think this is an example of an unnecessarily created technology? Should there be better technology recycling programs, instead, so that people who cannot afford new devices can buy them at extremely discounted used prices?

  • pboetefu

    Although it may have failed to function the way they intended, this is an example of the development of jobs and a market in India for creating and selling technologies. If we looked back to the first low-cost technologies created in the U.S., we may have just as many (or probably more) criticisms. However, engineers and companies in India will learn from failures and the next round of technologies will be better and more affordable. This is an example of development initiatives by Indias for Indias, and I think it’s worth noting the value of these efforts. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest success, but to write it off as a complete waste is oversimplifying the facts of the matter.

  • dtindall8

    That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about the importance of promoting the production of ICT in developing countries, which Heeks emphasized in one of our readings as useful in spurring economic development by creating jobs and human capital.

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