Aakash 2 hits the sky, battery life faces Ctrl+Del

While the tablet is faster, quicker and easy to operate, users complain about its short battery life — two hours at most. Now, all eyes on version 3


Geetanjali Minhas | December 24, 2012

Looks like the UPA government’s ambitious scheme to provide a low-cost technical tool to students will bear fruit, after all. Having faced much flak over quality and manufacturing standards, the upgraded version of the Aakash tablet, Aakash 2, was launched by President Pranab Mukherjee on November 11.

The tablet is now faster and quicker, and easy to operate by anyone who has a basic knowledge of computers. But according to users, the good things stop at that point and the biggest problem starts: the tablet’s battery lasts less than two hours. While the tablet’s manufacturer, Datawind, claims its battery life is four hours and IIT-Bombay, its developer, says the battery lasts three hours with simple browsing and occasional Wi-Fi access, most users Governance Now spoke with would beg to differ.

J Dayanidhi, professor at Sona College of Technology in Salem, Tamil Nadu, says, “Its applications are very beneficial but its battery runs out in only two hours. People on the move cannot work on the tablet.”

Dr B Sathiyabhama, professor of computer science at the same college, agrees that the battery of Aakash 2 wears out in less than two hours, forcing one to often leave work incomplete.

Nevertheless, Sathiyabhama says it is a good teaching tool. He, and some of his colleagues would know — after all, 20 tablets were given out on a first-come-first-served basis to teachers at a workshop held in the Salem college on November 10-11.

Antosh Dyande, professor of computer science at Shri Vithal Education and Research Institute, Maharashtra, says while IIT-B was supposed to send them 40 tablets, they have received only two so far. Coming down hard on its poor battery life, he says the tablet’s normal battery time is one hour.

Munir Ahmed Dar, of the Srinagar-based National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology and Aakash coordinator, says though the tablet is good “overall”, it should have been provided with GPRS, as his region suffers from connectivity problems and Wi-Fi is not available everywhere. While not happy with its short battery life, Dar, however, lauds the government for its initiative in developing Akash 2, adding that students are eager to buy it.
Their institute, Dar says, has received 40 tablets so far and expects 150 in all.

Fellow Aakash coordinator Shivaji Jadhav, of SB Patil College of Engineering in Pune, says, “While software can be reprogrammed, the battery life of Aakash 2, which runs for a maximum of two hours, may lead to a situation in which students reject the tablet. But it would be a good bet (for students) if the cost is increased by '500 to provide better battery.”

Rupesh Dubey of the Indore-based Institute of Engineering and Science says, “Aakash 2 is compact, easy to use and has good touch-screen sensitivity. Connectivity and Wi-Fi is also good but its memory is very low and needs to be at least 1 GB. An additional SIM and battery with supplementary power will be better options.”

Android being an open-source software many more useful applications should have been added, Dubey adds.

The tablet: Making, features and further

Through seven months, different teams worked rigorously under Prof D B Pathak, project in-charge of Aakash 2, at the Aakash Lab set up in IIT-Bombay’s department of computer science and technology.

The tablet comes with a popular application called Clicker, which is used to collect instant feedback from a large number of students. Project manager Tushar Kamble says, “All applications developed by IIT-B are built on the student response system. In paperless technology, students will be able to attend exams on the tablet itself, where instant reports will be generated.”

Blender will help students view 3D animations of school- and engineering-level content. This will help them look at and comprehend different topics from multiple-viewing angles, the experts explain.

ProxiMITY (Proxy Multimedia Integration Tool for You) is a tool that lets a student refer to a particular theme in a lecture instantly, without having to go back and forth. It also allows students to get individual access to quality lectures and flexibility of studying anywhere, anytime.

According to IIT-B, 10,000 tablets have been delivered to teachers in 250 engineering colleges across the country, including remote centres, during a two-day workshop held on November 10-11.

As part of the two-year project, Datawind is scheduled to supply 1 lakh tablets to IIT-B who will distribute them free to engineering colleges; IIT-B will also teach students to develop applications and content. The government aims to provide between 50 lakh and 1 crore tablets to college and school students at a subsidised rate of '1,200 per tablet.

For every 100 tablets given out to engineering colleges, 60 will be used for classroom teaching, while 30 tablets will be used by final engineering project students for additional development of applications and content. 

Pathak says, “Lab tests on tablets are being done by C-DAC Thiruvanthapuram, which has approved the quality of Aakash 2.”

Logistics management of Aakash 2 is being carried out under C-DAC, where the tablets are received from the manufacturer Datawind and in coordination with IIT-B, and dispatches them to remote centres.

Prof Rajat Moona, director-general, C-DAC, says, “C-DAC, Thiruvanthapuram, is testing and developing application for lab contents that will be used by school students. C-DAC is also developing software for Indian languages on Aakash 2.”

Pathak says the true objective of Aakash 2 is not to make available the tablet to crores of students at 50 percent subsidy but to test its use in engineering education, thereby encouraging teachers and students of engineering colleges in research and development projects.

“While the mandate remains engineering college education and their teachers, the best utility of Aakash 2 will be when students use it for their one-year projects and create applications and content for schoolchildren,” Pathak says. “In fact, one student has developed an application for Aakash that can be used to teach blind people.”

Now, work on Aakash 3

While major global manufacturers are used to high price margins, Aakash has changed the global pricing equations in the low-end tablet market. “Its USP is that it is full of preliminary applications and content, which our teachers are finding very useful in classrooms teachings and courses,” says the project director.

Giving due credit to the efforts put in on Aakash 1 by IIT-Rajasthan and Datawind, Prof Pathak on  a humble note says similarly Aakash 3 will be taken forward from efforts put in on Aakash 2. “Because we knew what went wrong earlier, we were able to avoid repeating the same mistakes,” he says. “When the whole world was laughing at us, they managed to come out with tablet at the sub-$50 segment.”

For now, work on Aakash 3 specifications is being finalised by a subcommittee comprising chairman and members and read by Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras. “While Aakash3 may cost slightly more, or even less, it will contain performance-based specifications and many useful applications already being developed by students, rather than just focusing on the processor,” Jhunjhunala says.

Asked if the upgraded version will have any additional USB port for connecting to the internet and external devices, against the present mini-USB port, he says, “Students can always use a HUB if they want an extra USB port.”

Though the policy is yet to be finalised, Jhunjhunwala says Aakash 3 will be available to students within a year. “The government will distribute the tablet to students through colleges. While 60 to 70 percent students will have to pay full price, it will be subsidised for those below a certain income level,” he says.



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