India launched what it dubbed the world's cheapest tablet computer Wednesday, to be sold to students at the subsidized price of $35 and later in shops for about $60.Most of India's 1.2 billion people are poor and products such as Apple Inc's iPad are beyond the reach even of many in the fast-growing middle class.
"The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide," Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal said.
The government is buying the first units of the lightweight touch-screen device, called Aakash, or "sky" in Hindi, for $50 each from a British company which is assembling the web-enabled devices in India.
A pilot run of 100,000 units will be given to students for free, with the first 500 handed out at the launch to a mixed response. It supports video conferencing, has two USB ports and a three-hour battery life but some users said it was slow.
India has a reputation for creating affordable products that are easy to use and sturdy enough to handle its rugged environment -- from Tata Motors' $2,000 Nano car to generic versions of pharmaceuticals.
Two years in development, the paperback book-sized Aakash may help the government's goal of incorporating information technology in education, although critics were doubtful of its mass appeal.
Despite being a leader in software and IT services, India trails fellow BRIC nations Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get the masses connected to the Internet and mobile phones, a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft said this year.