Home' Technology Review : May June 2013 Contents 76
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
BUSINESS REPORT — MAKING MONEY IN MOBILE
Then I realized that most of these mini-
vans were used as taxis, and the taxi driv-
ers actually slept in them.
In the same way, the applications of
these tablets will be very unique, and I’m
not sure that I can comprehend what all
of them would be. But I’m hoping that if
we own the platform, we can become the
conduit for those applications and those
You’re practically giving away the tablets.
So what’s your strategy for making this
into a business?
The first killer app on these devices is
going to be Internet access. We have
18 patents on how to deliver basic Web
access, even on India’s GPRS networks.
The idea is to bundle free Internet access
with advertising on an affordable tablet.
Basic browsing without audio or video
streaming would be available for free, and
we’d have a banner ad that runs on the
top, which pays for the cost of data service
and makes us money.
Does the Ubislate come with free Inter-
net access right now?
In India, the free usage model is not in
place yet. We have a Rs.98 ($1.80)-per-
month data plan for unlimited usage. It
is a fraction of what other plans cost, and
we intend to drive it down to free.
What new opportunities do you see for
apps in the developing world?
Nobody focuses on the problem of creat-
ing apps for somebody whose monthly
income is $200. Those people are not
part of the computer age or the Internet
age; most of them are not literate. So we
run app competitions in India to try to
get people thinking from that perspec-
tive. The winner of our last competition
was a group of students who designed a
commerce app for “fruit walas,” the guys
who run around with carts selling fruits
and vegetables. These students created
a graphically intuitive way of running a
small vegetable business.
There are something like five million
fruit walas in India, so if you had an app
for them, there could be a lot of money to
be made. — John Pavlus
Suneet Singh Tuli, the man behind
the ultracheap Aakash 2 tablet, says
the West doesn’t understand mobile
business in the developing world.
● A devout Sikh, Suneet Singh Tuli, 44,
has found his own way to live by his reli-
gion’s central belief of sarbat da bhala, or
“may everyone be blessed.”
He wants everyone in India to be on
To that end, Tuli’s London company,
DataWind, is building inexpensive tablet
computers, which it assembles in China or
with the help of support staff at its India
offices. The idea, Tuli says, is to pair cheap
tablets with ad-supported wireless ser-
vice as a way to bridge the digital divide
between poor and rich countries.
DataWind began winning attention
last year when it struck a deal to supply
India’s government with 100,000 of its
Aakash 2 tablets, for roughly $40 each,
by this March 31. That tablet works only
near Wi-Fi points, but DataWind also sells
an $83 commercial version called Ubis-
late 7C+, which comes with an unlimited
mobile data plan for $2 per month. Within
18 months, Tuli says, he hopes to bring
the price of a basic tablet down to $25
and make the Internet connection free.
Tuli’s company is not a charity.
DataWind plans to make money with its
own app store and by displaying ads in its
built-in browser (which also compresses
websites for fast delivery over India’s
slow wireless networks). MIT Technology
Review spoke with Tuli about his com-
pany’s business model and the future of
tablet computing in India.
You’ve said you never intended to be in the
hardware business. What do you mean?
We think that hardware is dead. A giga-
hertz processor costs $4. It’s good enough
for most everything you’d want to do
with a tablet, and not just for poor peo-
ple in India. Hardware has gotten cheap
enough that restaurants or resorts should
be giving customers tablets to walk away
with for free. Hardware is becoming a
So tablets should be literally disposable,
like USB flash drives?
I don’t like the word “disposable,” but by
2015, you’re going to see tablets reach
the stage where you can just pick one up
at 7-Eleven. And for consumers in the
developing world, tablets will be their
We did a study to understand where
the inflection point for PC deployment in
the U.S . was: when did PCs really take off ?
Our assessment was that when the cost of
purchasing PCs fell to within 20 percent
of monthly salary, you started to see them
in every home. In a place like India, there
are about billion people for whom $50
meets that criterion.
What new businesses will ultracheap
tablets lead to in the developing world?
There are going to be applications that
will create billion-dollar opportunities,
but we may not understand them in the
West or be able to relate to them. My
epiphany came when I saw a magazine
ad in India that showed a minivan with a
driver’s seat that could be laid down 180
degrees. I thought, “How dumb is that?”
“Hardware has gotten cheap enough that
restaurants or resorts should be giving
customers tablets to walk away with for free.”
— Suneet Singh Tuli
4/2/13 3:32 PM
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