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Handhelds Hardware

India Officially Launches Simputer 197

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 Drunken Coward ( 574991 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:24AM (#4540643)
    The average monthly salary [rice.edu] in India is somewhere along the lines of $37. A person earning that much could hardly afford the luxuries of such a handheld, even if it could be attained for the paltry sum of $200. Pennies to us, but to them it could take a lifetime to acquire that amount of savings. Until we work to attain far cheaper methods of building computers, these people will be unable to experience the very joy we take for granted. Of course, this is a noble effort and no doubt will further number of Indians able to participate in the IT field, but further effort is needed.
  • by kfishy ( 534087 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:30AM (#4540661)

    I suppose the government will have to fund it, at least partially. However, the impact apparently wouldn't be that great, since it is designed to be shared by a community [simputer.org]

  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:43AM (#4540684)
    First, India has a big educated middle class. Over 100 million people. They don't have the sort of incomes we do in the West, but a $200 handheld is within their possible budgets.

    Second, India has huge potential in IT as their materials-poor economy has encouraged education in mathematics and other subjects which do not require expensive learning facilities - you do not actually need a computer to learn computer science, but it sure helps.

    Third, India cannot afford lots of imports from the US, Korea or Japan. They need to be self-sufficient (even if it wasn't one of Gandhi's principles).

    Fourth, the demand for such things is enormous. Believe me, I once thought I was going to find myself in prison in Mumbai because I had an HP calculator and a mini circuit tester in my luggage ("Admit, you have brought these to sell on black market")

    Fifth, even poor Indian villages have the odd educated person who will provide services for the locals - and such people would benefit enormously from a handheld. The idea that every peasant should ultimately have a compactflash/smartmedia card with all their own information on it, is actually a hugely enabling one in a subliterate culture because it allows them access to a personal store of information. If it has to be retrieved by symbols on a soft keyboard and text-to-speech, does it matter?

    Unfortunately, looking at some earlier posts, India and China are far from having a monopoly on illiterate peasants who don't know what goes on in the rest of the world (flamebait)

  • A couple things (Score:5, Informative)

    by gralem ( 45862 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:15AM (#4540741)
    First: IML stands for "Information" ML, not "International" ML.

    Second: The product is not shipping, it was just presented by the IT Minister of India. No shipping date has been set by any company. Aparently the people at simputer.org do not build the product, they licence the hardware to be built. There are no listed manufacturers of the simputer.

    It is not shipping, it is not available. (But according to the FAQ, it should be shipping by March 2002!) All said, the hinduonnet article is simple marketing fluff (ala M$, RH, etc).

  • by metlin ( 258108 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:23AM (#4540757) Journal
    IAAI - I Am An Indian
    IAANLPR - I Am An Natural Language Processing Researcher

    Ok, although India does have so many different languages, the majority of the people speak a countable few, maybe with subtle differences in dialects. In fact, only about 14 languages are recognized as official languages of India, and almost everybody can speak two or more Indian languages.

    So, although the total figure may seem big, using just one language like Hindi would cover significant percent of the populace.

    Also, there _is_ a lot of similarity between a lot of the languages, both in the written and the spoken forms. So developing a general prototype system and then expanding on it regionwise would not be as mammoth a task as it may seem.

    For example, a lot of the South Indian languages sound similar, have similar sounding alphabets, with a few differences in grammar. The basic difference would come in smaller parts of the language set and may need certain prefixed lexicon modifications.

    If these things are going to be custom built for each of these states, then I'm guessing that you'd have a system that is custom-built to the languages of that region.

    It may take a while longer and maybe a little tedious, but I suppose that would be just worth the trouble, especially after having come this far.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:33AM (#4540772)
    It's just difficult to produce a computer at too low a price in a developing country. I am even skeptical about Rs.9000. That was said when they proposed to release by March 2002. The first time someone told me about simputers he said it was Rs.12000. Then in a talk Vijay Chandru accepted it seems it would be a lot more than that (18000 or something like that).

    BTW in India a PC is about Rs. 30000
  • Re:MP3? (Score:2, Informative)

    by kfishy ( 534087 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:34AM (#4540774)

    Ogg Vorbis was ported to Sharp's Zaurus [linuxdevices.com] earlier this year. It has a 200MHz StrongArm processor too, so I don't see why they can't do the same with Simputer. I would love to have an inexpensive Ogg-capable handheld ^_^

  • by notb4dinner ( 558244 ) <{ua.ude.eltsacwe ... } {edylb.wehttam> on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:35AM (#4540775) Homepage
    ... one of the licensees listed on simputer.org [simputer.org] is supposededly making some evaluation versions avaliable soon. See here. [ncoretech.com]
  • by The Cydonian ( 603441 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @07:57AM (#4540871) Homepage Journal

    Not to karma-whore, but just a few additions/corrections (I had posted earlier [slashdot.org] on the scripts; now including stuff on grammar as well here) :-

    • The official 1961 Census listed 1652 "mother tongues" [languageinindia.com].
    • Another report suggests that there are 418 "listed languages" [culturopedia.com]
    • However, there are 18 (not 14) constitutionally recognised languages.
    • Anthropologically speaking, there's little similarity between *most* languages except for geographical proximity; for instance, folks speak Gujarati, Siddhi and Indo-Portuguese in and around the islands of Daman and Diu. It's interesting to note that these languages have derived themselves from Aryan, African and European roots respectively. Very little overlap, historically speaking, but these languages are spoken nowhere else, hence are uniquely Indian.
    • But despite all this, there *is* a certain amount of overlap. There are 10 uniquely Indian (as opposed to Indic; Indic would include scripts such as Burmese, Thai, Tagalog and Sinhala as well) scripts which are all derived from the 5th century Brahmi script. A fact that was already researched and recorded in C-DAC's masterful ISCII (Indian Standard Code for Information Interchange) format, which, as I understand, treats each individual language as a specialisation of an existing meta layout.
    • It is my contention that the basic grammar for *most* prominent constitutionally recognised languages is inherently same; the grammatical difference between, say, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Urdu and Kannada is noticeable, but not significant.

    Bottomline: I'm an NLP researcher myself fascinated by languages (see my sig). As much as I'm excited by this project, I really think we shouldn't kid ourselves, coz:-

    • 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.
    • 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.
  • by abhikhurana ( 325468 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @08:59AM (#4540950)

    In case u guyz are wondering who is the female on the screen of the simputer
    on simputer.org, well her name is Aishawarya [indianceleb.com]
    Rai. Beautiful lady indeed. The link also has her phone number but try at ur
    own risk. Here [aishwarya-rai.com] are some
    nice pictures of her.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @09:11AM (#4540979)
    Join the
    • Simputer Yahoo Group
    at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/simputer/ [yahoo.com]

  • by Bubblehead ( 35003 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @10:16AM (#4541126) Homepage Journal
    Software Development Magazine [sdmagazine.com] covers the Simputer in their "Deadline" section (unfortunately, the section is only in the print edition, not online). From the article: "For $2 and a nominal rental fee, each villager can buy a smart card that stores all his or her information, and allows Internet and e-mail access." Sounds quite feasible to me.
  • by Syre ( 234917 ) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @11:32AM (#4541408)
    Look here [ncoretech.com].

    Not for general sale yet, but you might convince them to let you have an Evaluation unit...

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