The Aakash tablet was an idea developed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD) to improve the system of education by introducing students to the digital world and making them a part of the e-learning programme. The tablet aimed at bridging the â€˜digital divideâ€™ that exists in the country between the rich and the poor by introducing worldâ€™s cheapest tablet priced at $35 for students.
But six months after the MoHRD launched Aakash tablet, only 10,000 units were shipped in contrast to the claimed order of 4 million. Various technical problems were faced by those who used the tablet, like a defective operating system, weak processor, poor battery retention capacity, low memory storage, poor UI display and touch sensitivity, and no bluetooth or USB functionality. Even the internet connectivity of the tablet was only through WiFi, rendering its use impossible in rural areas. All these issues resulted in a poor user experience.
In order to understand the technological innovation, we delved into the history of Aakash tablet to explore what went wrong and what could have been done to make it a more efficient and successful development. Broadly, what prevented Aakash tablet from achieving the desired results was the fact that it lacked focus on the quality and the needs of actual users. In order to provide the tablet at a subsidized price, the government compromised on the quality which resulted in various technical problems. Moreover, little effort was put into user-centered research while designing the tablet. What students actually needed, desired, and how they would use the technology was not given enough thought and consideration. As a result, the Aakash seems to have failed both in quality and performance.
There was also a disconnect between the overall vision of the program (One Laptop Per Child – OLPC program by MoHRD) and the implementation and delivery strategy of the device. No formal marketing was directed towards students (as claimed by HRD minister Kapil Sibal), which resulted in a lack of clarity in terms of how and where the subsidized devices would be available. Even professionals were not attracted to the tablet as it lacked the ability to multi- task, had a sub-standard design and physical appearance, and lacked adjuncts like a camera and other features (that were removed to make the tablet cheaper). As a result, the low profit margins and the early negative response from the users discouraged many private actors to bid for its production.
We believe, for Aakash to be an efficient development, the following measures could have been taken:
_Ethnographic research to understand the needs and desires of all users, student and professional.
_Usability testing in order to study the patterns of usage, requirements, and difficulties of students using the tablet for educational purposes, as well as professionals separate needs.
_Pilot testing to gather information on the reception and usability of the tablet before a wider release.
_Several different design modifications in response to user feedback, from which the government could choose to ensure a quality product at an affordable price.
Almost a year after the launch of Aakash 1, the MoHRD and DataWind are set to roll out Aakash 2, an upgraded version of the device which will be launched very soon. Aakash 2 is expected to have a more powerful processor, a more sensitive touch screen, and will support a SIM card that will allow one to access the internet using a 2G network. The device will also become expensive compared to the earlier version and would cost roughly $50. While the Aakash 2 has focused on improving the technology, the problem of its relevance in the Indian context still remains questionable and insufficiently addressed. This leads us to a larger question, that is, our country’s approach to technological innovation and education system. Are we really trying to enhance our education system? Or, are we trying to, merely, position our country up in the technology/innovation world by developing the worldâ€™s cheapest tablet computer in India? Where are we heading? Your thoughts are welcome.