Here comes India’s Aakash…so what’s you’re mobile learning strategy now?

So you’re happy with your iPad? Of course you are. It’s sleek, fashionable and sexy. OK, it has a few irritating niggles. For example, it won’t handle Flash. There’s nowhere to upload files via a USB port, and attaching peripherals such as a projector needs a clunky adaptor, and if you have the new one you have to buy new charging cables, but you can live with all that. And of course it only cost £400 or thereabouts.

But what if there was something else out there, that didn’t look quite as sexy as an iPad but was a whole lot more versatile? Something that could accept USB devices, something which had a 7-inch touch panel, 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash storage, Android 4.0.3, built-in WiFi and a front-facing VGA camera and could even be user-programmed, or used to teach programming.

Looks familiar…the Aakash 2, which will be marketed outside India as the Ubislate

Something which costs (are you sitting down?) $21?

Well, just such an object has arrived. You’ll only pay the subsidised $21 if you happen to live in India. Outside the continent the new Aakash 2 – built by British company Datawind – will sell for a whopping $80. Get your credit cards out right now…

As Steve Jobs might have said, this changes everything. There have been cheap tablets before, of course. Pearson have tried to get in on the act with a bundle solution of tablet and software for schools in India called MX Touch. Difference is that the MX Touch 7 inch computer bundle is roughly five times the price of the Aakash. That’s a lot (relatively speaking) to pay for software. Put into perspective, the average per capita income in India is 61,000 rupees, or 50 times the cost of the Aakash – but nine times the cost of the MX Touch bundle. The Aakash is to be presented at the UN today (Nov 28th) before an invited audience, including Ban-Ki Moon

At the price of the Aakash, learning in India – and elsewhere – really is going mobile (it’s hardly worth even stealing one at this price). At least Pearson are trying. Publishers who aren’t planning a raft of material for this big new learning market – or who aren’t doing it already – are really running the risk of losing out, big time. And if I were an author, one of the first questions I’d ask my publisher is “what is your mobile publishing strategy?”.

Ultimately the Indian government would like all 220m students in India to have a $20 tablet. And nobody using a tablet for everyday learning – a tablet pre-loaded (or ready to be loaded) with content, either as pdfs or interactive exercises – is going to have much use for a satchel full of heavy, expensive textbooks.

Byron