DataWind’s Aakash tablet contract could be in jeopardy: report

Montreal-based DataWind may lose its contract to make India’s subsidized $35 tablet computer, according to a report published today.

Following user complaints about battery life, slow performance and thetablet’s touch screen, the Indian government is reopening the contractto produce the Aakash tablet to new bidders, the Globe said.DataWind won an original contract last year to supply the Indiangovernment with an initial run of 100,000 Aakash tablets, which Indiahas hailed as the world’s cheapest.

Yet only 10,000 units have been shipped since October. The Indiangovernment planned to produce the Aakash at a cost of $50 and sell itto Indian students at a subsidized price of $35. The tablet has beenmet with many criticismsabout the device itself and about the way DataWind has dealt with thosecustomer complaints.

According to emails obtained by from Aakash user AvnishLaroiya to Parminder Singh of DataWind, the device had trouble keepinga battery charge, would only workwith the power cord plugged in, andautomatically reset the time and date settings each time it was poweredup.

Alleged trouble with $35 tablet
“If I am not changing (the) date and time it does not acceptcertificates from Web sites and does not allow (me) to surf theInternet,” Laroiya wrote in an email to Singh. In another email toSingh, Laroiyaexpressed concern that the device was prone to overheat, required apencil to operate its touch screen, couldn’t use anEthernet connectionand didn’t offer proper sound controls while consuming video or music.

Singh responded to Laroiya by email that “if there are any issues wewould help resolved them or if required we would simply replace thefaulty devices.” Singh also wrote that DataWind would pay for shippinginvolved in replacing the old tablets with new ones.

The Globe story quotes DataWind CEO Suneet Singh as saying thatsome performance issues with the tablet were a result of its governmentproduction partner, the Indian Institute of Technology, changing thespecifications for the device to higher U.S. military standards thatcouldn’t be met for such a low cost. Singh also told the Globe some ofthe criticism of the Aakash is rooted in jealousy or corruption withinthe Indian media and technology sectors.

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