India backs Aakash 2 tablet-based national education project

Indian president Shri Pranab Mukherjee (fourth from right) holds the new Aakash version 2.0 tablet
The Indian president unveiled the tablet on 11 November, India's National Education Day

India is once again trying to make low-cost computers available to students across the country.

The country's president has unveiled an upgraded version of the world's cheapest tablet computer - despite the functionality and distribution problems faced by the device's predecessor.

Made by UK-based Datawind, the Aakash 2 has a longer battery life and is faster than an earlier version.

It is expected to go on sale in about a week, at 2,263 rupees ($40; £26).

A right to information request filed by Indian media blog Medianama showed that only 572 of the first devices have been distributed, reaching fewer than 20 colleges.

It is expected that the first 100,000 units of the latest tablet will be offered to students at colleges and universities at a subsidised price of 1,130 rupees ($20; £13) before appearing in stores.

The Aakash 2 was unveiled by the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday 11 November, India's National Education Day.

"Technology-enabled learning is a very important aspect of education," said Mr Mukherjee at the event.

"This must be adapted to our specific needs and introduced expeditiously in all educational institutions across the country."

The Indian government believes that low-cost tablets can help revolutionise internet access across the country.

At the moment, there are close to 150 million internet users in India, according to figures from Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), but it is still a relatively small proportion of the country's 1.2 billion population.

Indian students pose with Aakash computer tablet, 5 October 2011
The first tablet had distribution problems, with only a few schools receiving it

The Aakash 2 has a 7-inch (18cm) screen, the latest Android software, and a three-hour battery life. It also has 800Mhz processing speed, 800x480 pixel resolution and 512MB memory.

The tablet benefits from a SD card slot, a USB port and works over wi-fi. It does not have 3G capability, however, so users need access to a good internet connection.

Bombay IIT, an engineering institution, aims to distribute 100,000 tablets to colleges around the country.

In an earlier interview with the BBC, Prof DB Phatak from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay said that the tablet was "a fully-fledged computer, not just an access device".

"The applications and the content on Aakash 2 are most important, not just the device."

Warmer reception?

Although the device seems to be better than its predecessor, one analyst told the BBC that it remained to be seen how user-friendly it was going to be.

"When Aakash 1 came out, the specifications were so poor that even at a very low price, it wasn't the device that anyone would want to have," said Katyayan Gupta from Forrester Research, based in New Delhi.

"Also, in action, it wasn't functioning pretty well.

"However, Aakash 2 specifications are very impressive, and the price is very attractive, but the big question is how it will really function - and we will only know it once it goes on sale.

"But I think it will definitely have a much better response, and a much warmer reception from the consumer market, as it seems definitely to be a better product.

"I would definitely think that this device probably will be a game changer for tablet market in India."