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Handhelds Hardware

India Officially Launches Simputer 197

Posted by timothy
from the high-hopes-still-high dept.
aravind writes "The Communications and IT Minister, Pramod Mahajan, has launched India's indigenously developed low-cost handheld Personal Computer -- Simputer -- at an IT and Communication expo, SMAU 2002, in Milan. A low-cost handheld PC on GNU/Linux working through a browser for international markup language IML, priced at Rs9000 (less than $200). 200Mhz StrongArm processor, 32MB DRAM, 24 MB flash, touchscreen, speakers, USB, text-to-speech, MP3 capability ... " Look here for some of the previous stories we've run on the Simputer.
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India Officially Launches Simputer

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  • by syphoon (619506) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:23AM (#4540640)
    Its good to see low cost applications such as the simputer being made to help those who otherwise wouldn't have access to any such device. But I wonder, in a country as vast as India with 58 taught languages and 87 different language newspapers (http://www.abhishek.mybravenet.com/languages%20of %20india.htm), how effective would the speech recognition really be, especially when you take into account the lower literacy levels of the demograph its aimed at.
  • by miratrix (601203) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:25AM (#4540649)
    Yeah, the specs doesn't look too different from Compaq iPaq which has been out for more than 2 years now. However, it is quite a bit cheaper, and it seems like the point of this device is to bring computing to the masses. If you don't have reliable power... etc, PDA just might be the answer.
  • by Krapangor (533950) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:28AM (#4540656) Homepage
    This is a really stupid waste of money.
    India's problem are not people who don't know how to use a computer, India's problem are people who can't read or write at all.
    What use whould such people have for a computer ?
    I doubt seriously that it had Hindi speech recognition (Hindi is much harder to do than French or English).
    So these people would be able to buy for a 2 years wages a high-tech doorstopper.
    That's classic wasted goverment effort. How about building schools instead ? Or creating decent taxes to distribute the enourmous wealth of the rich to the poor one so that they can efford education or even a real computer in some time ?
    But as always technology without meaning.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:32AM (#4540662)
    perhaps. they can ditch the MP3 support. doesn't fraunhoeffer (or whoever licenses mp3 stuff) charge $1, or something like that, per unit, for hardware devices to be able to play MP3s ?

    it's only $1, but, it's a start
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:43AM (#4540686) Homepage
    So are these things going to be available in other countries? Assuming the software is available (and it's Linux, so why not) then this thing could stomp on the Ipaq and other more expensive handhelds. At least for price-conscious buyers such as schools (the old Psion Series 3 and 3a had some success in British schools marketed as the Acorn Pocket Book - and it's a lot cheaper to buy ten of these handhelds for a classroom than a couple of PCs).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:44AM (#4540687)
    I had attended a talk by Vijay Chandru (the no. 1 contributor to it) & they said their aim was not only to provide individuals with cheaper comps. but to provides groups of people as well.

    In India, many village children (as well as grown-ups BTW) have never heard of comps. & even in cities. not many schools (incl. mine) have more than 10 comps. Those schools can instead invest on 10 simputers (for probably 1000 students!) which would be more cost-effective.

    They also say they don't want hi-fi speech synthesiser/recogniser as to learn a language (which is what village students as well as other villagers are expected to do), that's not required. It's OK if there is no proper intonation. The villagers can probably learn intonation later on but learning to write/read something even in their native language is still a great breakthrough.

    The major problem faced by them is discontinuation of StrongArm processors by Intel. It's obviously very expensive to design a processor for simputer in India today.
  • by LeapingGnomeArs (561240) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:47AM (#4540691)
    This thing takes three AAA batteries, are these readily available in India? In the US they cost a couple of bucks for a pack, so going by what someone else stated as the average Indian making $16 a month, they are supposed to spend 12.5% of their income on batteries?
  • by silentbozo (542534) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:54AM (#4540703) Journal
    If you're a geek (probably, if you get one of these), you'll probably also find a way to get your hands on some rechargable nicad batteries, and a charger (solar or conventional) to charge em with.

    For those who get one of these gizmos, who aren't geeks, they'll just find a local geek to hook them up with the requisite technology. I expect the local village tech to build a side business supply them with a set of rechargable batteries, which he'll recharge at his shop for a fee, if there doesn't already exist a service like this now...
  • by Albanach (527650) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:58AM (#4540706) Homepage
    By reading the FAQ [simputer.org] you would learn that the simputer has been designed for sharing by communities. THe examples they give are schools and community centres which are already established as places where shared resources are available to comunities.

    The simputer is equipped with a smart card reader which is intended to provide personalisation to the device. The aim is to reduce the cost of _access_ (that's the important bit, not ownership) to the device to that of owning a smart card, not of owning the device itself.

    Think of being able to walk into a local library and borrow a computer for a day instead of a book.

  • Re:from the FAQ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silentbozo (542534) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:03AM (#4540716) Journal
    Given that there's a USB port and a phone port (powered by some sort of software modem), you have two choices to network your equipment. The real problem with clustering will be power -you'll have to hack each case with an adapter to supply 4.5vdc. A more elegant way of handling this would be if they allowed you to supply power to the simputer via the USB port (say, could you get enough current to charge your batteries?)

    It's funny that they talk about client-server processes for the simputer, since it lacks wireless access (when I think of portable devices talking to other devices, I think wireless.) However, if you can implement a common interface for connecting to a network and charging via a common port (could USB work?), you could install ports all over the place.

    With this kind of distributed computing in place, India could soon be home of some serious computational power...
  • by arvindn (542080) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:16AM (#4540744) Homepage Journal
    Pennies to us, but to them it could take a lifetime to acquire that amount of savings. I live in India, and I what you say is simply not true. You're missing the point that not everyone earns close to the average salary. An Indian "middle class" family (such as mine) could easily have an income of Rs. 50000 ($1000) per month. (That's > 25 times your average!) True, the percent of affluent people is small, but in a country of a billion people its still a large number. I don't mean to troll, but slashdot seems to have the general attitude that India is still a country of snake charmers and tightrope walkers. Get over it. While a majority of the population lives in poverty (and consistently gets screwed by self-serving governments), there is also a large, educated, wealthy technically minded workforce.

    Actually, the reason the simputer took so long to take off was that its creators initially focussed on the wrong market - the illiterate masses. No company came forward to mass produce it and only the intervention of the government saved it from dying out altogether. But now that it has gotten off the mark, I think there is a very good market for it out here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:27AM (#4540761)
    AAA batteries ARE available in India, and no not for $2 but about Rs.10 (20 cents).
    Don't expect costs in developing countries to be equal to those in the US. Heard of Eastern Economy/Low Priced/... Edition of Books specifically for South Asian & nearby developing countries?
  • Form factor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by e_n_d_o (150968) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:28AM (#4540762)
    PCs can get into the $200 price range. Systems can be found for as little as $200 at Walmart (sans $99 15" monitor).

    Based on what I've seen here, I imagine it would have been possible to develop a system in the $200 hardware price range with a 13" monitor. I'm curious to know why they didn't choose a larger form factor for the machine. The advantages of the PDA-style design are portability, power consumption, and a pen-based interface. The cost is a tremendous restriction in capability, and the requirement of developing properietary hardware. I imagine that portablility will also often be a negative, as the device is a handheld and its a fact of life that people drop things (of course, I'd be much less likely to drop my PDA if it cost me a year's salary).

    These devices sound like a remarkable achievement, and I wish them nothing but success. But I am curious as to why they didn't go with a bit bigger of a box.
  • by Mac Degger (576336) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:39AM (#4540780) Journal
    You should realise that having a coupleof these in out of the way villages can actually help people to read. A "learning to read and write" program should be pretty easy to program on such a machine...drop it in a smallish group of kids, and they'll have it down soon enough. This device is an enabler for what you're complaining about. And at the low cost of the machine, it's actually quite do-able for the governemnt (ie affordable).
  • by Overcoat (522810) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:44AM (#4540786)
    The reason average income in India is so low is that the population contains many millions of very poor people.

    Keep in mind, though, that India's population is about a billion: there is also a large middle income group in the country who could afford a $200 computer pretty easily. This group makes up a relatively small percentage of the population, but this still amounts to several million people
  • The real change... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cheese Cracker (615402) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:54AM (#4540799)
    ... will be when China has ironed out all the bugs with their CPUs and software. Then you can forget
    Intel and Microsoft having much sales in Asia and the rest of the developing countries. A guess would
    be that a Chinese handheld would go for $50. China has the ambition of taking the lead in the IT
    market in Asia and the developing countries... and I bet they will. And then slowly they'll move over
    to take market shares in the developed countries... maybe with 'inferior' products, but it will all go the
    way the car industry went. Once they get a foothold, they'll make better and better products and finally
    pass companies like Intel and Microsoft.
  • by Annoyed Coward (620173) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @07:05AM (#4540815) Homepage Journal
    It costs less than a Television in India. And there are tens of millions of Televisions in India. :-D
  • Re:Form factor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Atrahasis (556602) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @07:12AM (#4540826) Homepage
    The three advantages you list are exactly what they need. 1/ Low power consumption - uses batteries, so you don't need to plug it in (you'd be lucky to find somewhere to plug it in in the undeveloped areas, wouldn't you). 2/ Portability - so it can be shared by communities - is one of the main aims of the project. 3/ Pen based interface - so people can be taught to read and write using it. The two disadvantages : 1/ Limit in capability - less than 5 years ago my desktop was based on the StrongArm, and I can tell you it wasn't 200Mhz. It was still a lot faster than the ix86's around at the time. 2/ Requirement to build prop. hardware - the project doesn't manufacture - it licenses (or will) the manufacture out to tech companies. I'd say this was an advantage because they can keep the price down by using the lowest bidding contractor.
  • by Annoyed Coward (620173) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @07:18AM (#4540833) Homepage Journal
    That is not true. Since your post is based on piece of guesswork about India, I dont take it seriously. The infrastructure for education is in place. It is not perfect, but it is in place. And most of this is geared to provide computer education as well. The development of Simputer, (and supercomputer, and optical fibres, and satellites, and nuclear power stations) is part of taking the country in the rank of developed nations. The Simputer will find local consumers, no doubt. But, if it hits American markets, it could replace lot of chinese devices.
  • by metlin (258108) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @08:32AM (#4540911) Journal
    Interesting post! :-)

    I'd however, like to add a few points which I consider relevant :

    I absolutely agree that a lot of Indian languages have little or no relation to each other, but the truth is that a significant percentage of these languages can be traced back to a common root. For example, certain Brahmi-derived languages and Prakrit have very common grammatical rules, but are also very different in other ways.

    As long as we can find a set of common languages which would serve the majority of the populace, it'd be great. Reaching that in itself would be significant achievement.

    Regarding the differences in grammar, yes, you're correct. But look at it from the point of voice recognition. Malayalam and Tamil sound very much alike, and a person with the knowledge of one with absolutely no knowledge of the other can actually understand the other one. But the alphabets of Tamil and Malayalam are phonetically miles away, Malayalam has a alphabets that spell like Brahmi, look like Tamil ones and the lexicon has a lot of Sanskrit. Likewise for Telugu and Kannada. In fact, Kannada has grammatical rules that are pretty much like that of Sanskrit (there is a book called NLP - A Panian Perspective that discusses exactly these issues).

    Well, as for what you said,

    Let's admit it; computerisation of *all* Indian languages won't happen in our lifetimes. Denying that would be to deny India's mind-boggling linguistic diversity.

    Perhaps not all of it, but once you have a large chunk of it, you'll realise that a lot of them are evolved dialects and can be traced to a series of common roots. Look at Urdu, Arabic script with Hindi, Persian and Arabic words in the North, while down south you have a mix of Marathi and Telugu words. So it may not be all that impossible.

    Let me rephrase your statement - *Complete* computerization of all the languages will not happen, but basic computerization might just happen, however mind boggling that task may seem.

    If you want to increase literacy in India, get your basics right:- increase the number of schools and increase their quality. Don't search for magic bullets. They won't deliver, even if they're tech-y stuff.

    Hmmm.. I think the Simputer was originally intended more as a tool to help the farmers and the rural people, not to educate people. In fact, I fully agree with you that technology will not be the only saviour. But then again, tools equip people better. Don't look at the Simputer as the end result, look at it as a tool that'll ease your way into achieving it :-)

  • by fault0 (514452) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @09:32AM (#4541019) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but a larger group of people might pool their resources and get one. I've heard of urban poor (note: not villagers) buying TV's/with Cable in India this way.
  • ogg? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elohim (512193) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @10:14AM (#4541119)
    Someone (besides me) should get in touch with them and recommend adding an ogg player alongside the mp3 player!

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