The world's cheapest tablet, Aakash, costing about Rs 3,000, has received about 3 lakh pre-launch bookings for its commercial version that goes on sale later next month.
A subsidised model of this tablet, made by UK-based Datawind, is already being distributed free in schools and colleges. Aakash's retail bookings exceed India's estimated 250,000 tablet PC market, dominated by Apple, Samsung and Reliance.
"The bookings for Aakash have been done without any money received in advance. We have identified an operator for a data plan at Rs 99 a month," said Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli, who claimed the data streaming technology offered by his company could make internet access costs virtually free.
"We hope to make internet free on our devices with that technology." Tuli is experimenting with a technology that can stream a 700MB file compressed into a 25MB on a tablet. Aircel could be the likely operator, said executives of the two companies, requesting anonymity.
Datawind has supplied about 10,000 tablets to the government's National Mission for Education at a price of Rs 2,250. The devices are being used by students from colleges such as the IITs, RECs, BITS Pilani, Teri University and others.
Aakash, in its next version, will be upgraded with a capacitive touch screen and a processor with double the speed. Datawind plans to supply an attachableRs 400 keyboard, turning the device into PC-lookalike at Rs 3,400.
The government is also considering a proposal to procure the next lot, called Aakash 2, with a faster 700 MHz processor, albeit at the same price. Tuli says there have been invitations from other nations for their digital inclusion programs, seeing India's success.
"The governments of Mexico, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Thailand, Brazil, Bangladesh have requested us to participate in programs similar to India. None, though have come out with tenders for supply of low cost devices as of now," Tuli said. KPMG's telecom head Jaideep Ghosh, however, says that the low-cost tablet success might not be as specatcular as that of the mobile handsets.
"About 185 million new handsets being sold in India this year. But the number of tablets to be sold in a year would be in the range of 250,000 to 500,000 units." The low price is attractive only for students and the youth, who are aspiring to buy new products, he said.
The tablet market is expected to see a price war as Reliance Industries and Bharti Group are also gearing up to offer cheaper data plans on tablets. RIL may slash the cost of data download to as low as Rs 10 per GB on its upcoming Rs 6,000 tablet. Data downloads cost around Rs 100 per GB for most operators now.
Delhi-based Bharti Group's Beetel is also gearing up. "We were the first to introduce a tablet (Magiq) at Rs 9,999, this year. From January we will be going fullsteam and launch a third version of the tablet," says Vinod Sawhny, chief executive of Beetel Teletech. Samsung India is also launching a third model of the Galaxy Tab next month.
As per KPMG, Samsung has about 80% share of the market, followed by Apple with 5% share. Reliance Communications' group head for marketing and branding Sanjay Behl said the tablet market has doubled in a year. "Reliance Tab has become the third largest after Apple and Samsung tablets."