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How good is India's $35 PC?

What can you do with a disposable iPad killer?

India unveiled a prototype of a tablet PC it hopes to sell for $35 or less. Assuming India can find a partner to mass-produce the tablet and can get anywhere near its price target, what can you expect to accomplish with a practically disposable tablet PC?

The $35 tablet prototype from India will run a variation of the open source Linux operating system. It has 2GB of RAM, but no internal storage - relying on a removable memory card. The device has a USB port, and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Seems like reasonable enough specs - especially for $35.

On the software side, the $35 tablet has a PDF reader, multimedia player, video conferencing, web browser, and word processor. The value of the multimedia player will be contingent on its compatibility with popular audio and video file formats. The functionality of the word processor will hinge on its ability to create, view, or edit files in Microsoft Word format.

For PC purists who already question the value of tablets like the Apple iPad, a $35 tablet must seem like a combination between an optimistic pipedream and an ill-conceived prank. The logic goes like this: It can't run Windows 7, or any of the Windows-based applications the business world relies on, so it can't possibly have any useful function.

However, the saving grace for the tablet is the web browser. With a browser running on a Linux system connected to a wireless network, the other applications become irrelevant. Users can rely on Google Docs or Microsoft Office Web Apps for productivity. Files can be stored in the cloud. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be accessed. Finances can be managed with Mint.com. Music can be played at the Pandora website, or other sites like it.

Many will scoff at the idea of a $35 tablet PC. Of course, many tech geeks, pundits, and power users also scoffed at the concept of a netbook, claiming it was too weak to be of any value. A year later, netbooks were cannibalising notebook sales as students embraced the cheaper platform, and business professionals opted for smaller, lighter mobile computers.

Ultimately, it doesn't even really matter if the "$35 PC" ever materializes. The Indian prototype illustrates what's possible and breaks down barriers - challenging the rest of the industry to push the envelope. A Linux-based (think Android or Chrome OS), web-connected tablet would likely still be a tremendous success in the United States or the UK at three times that $35 target.

It certainly requires a culture shift from the current desktop OS running locally installed software. But there are web-based equivalents for most common applications and tasks, and that makes a $35 tablet PC a commodity with tremendous value in the office or on the road.

See also: India to provide $35 PC to students


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