It also contains a smart card reader for financial transactions and a browser that renders content in the XML-based Information Markup Language IML , which was designed for devices like the Simputer. Announced in , the hardware and software specifications were made open source and are part of the non-profit Simputer Trust www. In , a version named the Amida Simputer was introduced to appeal to the retail market. Simputers Simputers, such as this model from PicoPeta, are handheld devices designed for people in third-world countries with limited literacy and computer experience.
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The Simputer showed that India can design an innovative tech product. What holds it back? Its capability in hardware manufacturing and very little experience in marketing a new category of devices. Vinay and Chandru are holding Simputers. Photographs by www. It was referring to the Simputer, a handheld device designed out of Bengaluru. This was six years before Apple would launch one of its most game changing products, iPhone.
One of the basic applications of accelerometers in smartphones is that the screen is always displayed upright, whichever way you turn the phone. The accelerometer is now standard in smartphones. Not many know that the Simputer had an accelerometer in ! Not only that, it also had a handwritten annotation feature that was later popularised by the Samsung Galaxy Note launched in Its story from its spectacular launch to eventual fading out of public memory underlines the need for nurturing a capability to design and build from scratch an Indian electronic device for the global market.
It also raises questions on whether India has developed expertise in marketing a new category of electronic devices, and if it has the capability in hardware manufacturing. The Simputer was an easy to use handheld computing device targeted at the bottom of the pyramid semi-literate or illiterate user base.
The Simputer ran on a robust open source hardware and software platform to keep costs low, and keep it working in rugged environments. It was lightweight, thrifty on power consumption, easy to maintain, tolerant to heat, humidity, dust and vibrations, capable of good screen visibility both outdoor and indoor, and capable of delivering clear audio even in a noisy environment. The advanced applications for the Simputer included telephony, data access, and financial transactions.
While the Simputer was a success in demonstrating that Indians in India could conceptualise, design, develop, and produce a new category handheld device, three critical challenges ensured that it had only a limited commercial success.
These were marketing a new technology category both to the bottom and top of the pyramid, paucity of risk funding for entrepreneurs, and absence of sophisticated hardware manufacturing in India. The vision for the Simputer was a low-cost device, to help every Indian citizen—especially those at the bottom of the pyramid—irrespective of gender, language, physical handicap, geographical location, caste or creed, literate or illiterate, to access the information superhighway.
Did the focus on the bottom of the pyramid make the Simputer financially unviable? The utopian assumption was that every Indian village would require a Simputer that will be with a trustworthy person like a postman.
All these features had to be included on a platform that was meant for the bottom of the pyramid and was priced at about Rs 10, with a monochrome display. With all these features built into the Simputer, the performance was possibly not up to the mark for an urban customer. In hindsight, one of the marketing opportunities was to sell the Simputer board as a low-cost standalone computer. Another marketing opportunity was to develop the software for the Simputer into an open source platform and an alternative to the existing Symbian OS and Palm OS—like Android.
These marketing and business models that seem obvious today did not exist a decade and half ago. There was a lot of visibility for the Simputer among leading media channels across the world. The New York Times Magazine called it the most important innovation in computer technology in This international visibility was not marketed enough to garner more funding for the Simputer.
The four founding members of the Simputer team bootstrapped the project in their lab at the Indian Institute of Science IISc in Bengaluru in late Between and , the team managed to raise Rs 2. They then raised a loan of Rs 2 crore from the Technology Development Board which was subsequently repaid in full.
In the early s angel investors and venture capitalists VCs did not come in search of promising startups like they do today. There was no concept of exclusive funding for social impact.
Today, there are startup funds exclusively focused on social sector startups. While Rs 4 crore was earmarked for marketing the Simputer by the public sector hardware manufacturing partner, a large part of it was never spent. The government was the perfect large order customer for the Simputer. Though the Indian government liberally used Simputer in its advertising, there was little real commercial support in terms of an order. A funding of about Rs 50 crore would have seen the Simputer project through.
This could have come in the form of a large order—for instance, 50, devices for use in e-governance programmes. The order would have been sufficient to prime the supply chain, and help the Simputer survive the initial years. While the Simputer team had a commercial partner, things did not work out well between them and they split ways.
Subsequently, a hardware manufacturing partner from the public sector was identified. The first run for the Simputer was fixed at 10, units, and the inventory was bought from global suppliers. The hardware manufacturing partner did not budget for design iterations before finishing the first run. Being a public sector enterprise, the partner was bound by a cautious approach which placed financial prudence as paramount.
Cost plus pricing was the norm, and planned losses in the first lot as a strategy to drive adoption was not an option at all. Even though solutions were identified for issues like the USB drawing more power when idle, any iterations to modify the hardware design was possible only after the first run. The Simputer team had to make do with a sub-optimal solution of choosing a multi-national corporation MNC operating in India to manufacture the casing. This was a time when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome SARS hit Asia, and the ever cautious hardware manufacturing partner felt that there was a high likelihood for an order for casings to be quarantined in Taiwan or Hong Kong.
And they took the less financially risky approach of using an MNC for manufacturing the casings in India. This proved to be a difficult job for the MNC, and the final product was not up to the mark due to limitations of their manufacturing technology. Where do we stand a decade and half after the Simputer project started? The challenges in funding are almost non-existent today.
There is a well-developed ecosystem of angel investors and VCs, including those who focus on the social sector. While India has a vibrant supply of product management and marketing professionals including those with international experience in the domain of electronic consumer products, there is still very little experience in marketing a new category of technology products. To a large extent, challenges in marketing a new category of technology, creating an ecosystem, and the ability to change mindsets to accelerate adoption still persist.
While global electronics supply chains are highly connected, Indian capabilities in hardware manufacturing are still a challenge. And this challenge is even more pronounced today. India has just embarked on a serious two-pronged strategy for electronics manufacturing that involves import substitution and an export orientation. It has not been an easy journey.
India needs to make rapid progress to overcome these challenges, and encourage many more audacious experiments like the Simputer. Some of them will go on to become commercial successes. The rationale for reimagining computing devices to break the digital divide has only increased manifold in the recent past.
The Bangalore Declaration highlighted the need for a simple access device to help an average Indian get on to the emerging information superhighway. How it all came together: The Simputer Trust was formed to hold a Simputer General Purpose License that was drafted to keep the software and hardware open. Picopeta Simputers was a company started in by the four IISc faculty members with a Simputer license from the Trust.
What the Simputer could do: An easy to use interface was critical for its wide adoption in rural areas.
So, one could use a touch panel with a plastic stylus as an input method. And it could read out text from a website or email, thanks to its text-to-speech translator, Dhvani, which could handle Indian languages like Hindi and Kannada. It had a smartcard connector. Since cellphone service was expensive in India in the late s, the device had an RJ telephone jack for a wired internet connection.
One of the most important design elements was a powerful annotation feature. A user could annotate in any window, be it a web page or audio player. And the user could share annotations via email.
An open source model: Two aspects related to the design are worth mentioning. One, the Simputer team did not want to get locked-in with the forced obsolescence strategy of the dominant chip and software vendors. Two, they also decided that the hardware and software design will be open to public. Since it takes time to recoup investments in hardware, the SGPL provided a one year window for the designer and manufacturer before the entire hardware design had to be made public. This was probably the first open-stack design in India.
Ready for market: By , when the Simputer was ready for commercialisation, it also had about apps like Geogebra an open source educational app for geometry and math , chess, etc. It is important to note that the Simputer was designed to be a handheld computer, and not just an organizer. The overall cost of a Simputer at reasonable volumes was estimated at slightly under Rs 10, for one with a monochrome screen.
The Simputer also had a model with a colour screen that was priced at about Rs 20, Was this article useful? Sign up and we'll send you articles like this every week. Here's a sample. Login to comment. Jay Srinivasan on Jan 24, a. A nice, comprehensive, perspective on Simputer. I have also read the comments and, while they hit many points, we may have to search for other reasons as well. Permit me to paint the landscape. I am an entrepreneur who is currently involved in a hardware-software venture.
Why did the Simputer flop?
It's a drab piece of plastic, with a black-and-white screen and a few buttons -- features that hardly warrant a second look. Nevertheless, Simputer -- a portable alternative to personal computers -- can empower masses with a host of applications, ranging from microfinancing to providing medical information. Nevertheless, Simputer -- a portable alternative to personal computers -- can empower masses with a host of applications it has to offer, ranging from microfinancing to providing medical information. Sadly, this is the unique selling proposition that developers of Simputer fail to cash in on. This 'talk of the town' has failed to deliver, for its developers are ignorant about market forces. The device was conceived as a tool to bridge the digital divide. Till date, this remains a distant dream, with the mini hand-held computer not even available for peer review, leave alone mass use.
Simputer (simple inexpensive mobile computer)
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Simputer - Computer Definition
The Simputer was a self-contained, open hardware Linux-based handheld computer , first released in Developed in, and primarily distributed within India , the product was envisioned as a low-cost alternative to personal computers. With initial goals of selling 50, simputers, the project had sold only about 4, units by , and has been called a failure by news sources. The device was designed by the Simputer Trust, a non-profit organization formed in November by seven Indian scientists and engineers led by Dr.
The Simputer short for simple inexpensive mobile computer is an inexpensive, Web-enabled handheld computer designed for use by people in developing countries. The device, which provides mostly image and voice-based interactivity , was developed to overcome two seemingly insurmountable problems in bringing the information age to the third world: the prevalence of poverty, which makes it all but impossible to purchase a computer, and the prevalence of illiteracy, which makes it all but impossible to use one. The Simputer is designed to be usable without requiring any training. According to Swami Manohar, one of the creators, as long as you can see the images and hear the spoken messages, you can use the Simputer. You forgot to provide an Email Address. This email address is already registered. Please login.
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