Story link:



  Is India’s Simputer bad for industry?

Yes, it could be. Launched quietly after a delay of two years, the slick new Simputer bristles with so many innovations and opportunities that it could halt all development in the Personal Digital Assistant [PDA] industry and decimate competitors. When it hits the Indian market it is likely to fly off the shelves. Call it a killer-app; app for appliance.

When GoodNewsIndia reported on it in 2001, it was a bold dream realised in a somewhat clunky box. The fact that the project soon got mired in funding issues may have turned out to be good for it. The four scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore—V Vinay, Swami Manohar, Ahmad Fatehally and Vijay Chandru-- who have developed this product, appear to have spent the hard years learning much about product positioning, ergonomics and value perception. The technological vision however was always there.

A gadget freak will fairly itch to get his hands on one. It looks slim and slick. With its pair of USB ports, it can ‘talk’ or ‘listen’ to hundreds of devices. It can read a SmartCard. Its customised flash memory storage can hold limitless amount of data. It has a sound recorder/player. It has an accelerometer that makes it respond to user motion. It can be connected wirelessly to the Internet. You can scribble everywhere on apps with a stylus. It has rechargeable batteries.

That’s the hardware part. The software innovations are truly indicative of the developers’ minds. In a world that has been drugged to believe that computing is not possible without Microsoft products, these four Indians are pointing to an enticing road ahead. The operating system is Linux. There is already an application development suite for creating new software. Its built-in applications are meant for people with little or no education. They can handwrite or peck at key-boards in their native language. They can send voice or drawn emails. For the first time in the world, someone has thought of designing from the ground up. It is heartening that India has done that. It is a wise move too; C K Prahlad never tires of saying that the greatest consumers in the world are the poor and businessmen are foolish in creating products only for the rich. The developers have decided to ignore world markets and focus on India first. How much more revolutionary can you get!

The scientists have formed a company—PicoPeta Computers—in Bangalore and are poised to become the first shining examples of an academe-incubated entrepreneurs. The product is renamed Amida which means ‘unbounded’; rarely has there been such an understatement. It will be manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd [BEL] in India.

Amida will stun users of Handspring, Palm, Clie, Pocket PC and the like. Its browser is full-fledged, not some dumbed-down version. Among its bundled applications, there is that exciting Katha, which is a ‘sticky’ with spreadsheet features. Now, where will you find an equal to that? With its development kit, Amida will keep application developers busy for years.

Implications of Amida, in a country like India are enormous. Bill collectors, data loggers, health workers, educators, small and big businessmen, salesmen, researchers, householders and bureaucrats will all find uses for an Amida. With customisable hardware and software, continuous upgradation of firmware and falling prices, Amida could be the digital bridge that is good for decades.

The price is also right. At this pre-volume point in time, it starts at Rs.9950 [-a premium, colour version is Rs.19,950] and there is every possibility of price halving in three years.

Maybe we are wrong. Amida may not be a threat to just PDAs. After all, it is more than a PDA; it’s a computer. So it may threaten even PCs. No surprise that India’s President A P J A Kalam --a Linux faithful-- is excited: he put in a call during the product launch on Mar 26, and checked out on features. He’s probably exploring one now. For, he is a man who can see the future.