It was just about an year ago that we heard about the $35 Android Tablet from India which would revolutionize the education in developing countries. Mr. Kapil Sibal promoted it with utmost fervor until it was found that the BoM itself of the tablet was more than $50 and none of the guys claimed to have “invented” it even knew about its existence until a few days before the announcement. Ultimately, it was discovered that the tablet was just a rebranded chinese import which the government wanted to bring down to $35 price point by subsidizing the cost and not by somehow inventing cheaper parts. What more proof can we get about it’s non existence that it hasn’t materialized after so much of time and even the company that was supposed to be making it according to the government (HCL) has said that it has nothing to do with it.
That was that but it seems like the episode has given a brilliant idea to a few others as well. Import cheap/sub-standard products from China, rebrand them, ask government for subsidy and claim to have “invented” a revolutionary low cost computing device. iWebLeaf is a case in point. I came across them through a couple of articles where this little company formed by a couple of engineering students has invented two ultra low cost products: A 3G data card for 1300 INR (~ $30) and a Laptop for 5000 INR (~ $110). I was pleasantly surprised and my initial reaction was to applaud the effort. Then I noticed that these products, although announced for quite some time and having gotten a LOT of mainstream media coverage on almost every news channel, have not come to the market yet. The reasons for the 3G card are unknown but the laptop was said to have been dropped because of lack of Government support (read “subsidy”).
Disclaimer: Before you read any further, please note that I’m an Indian myself and stay in India only (i.e., not a condescending NRI). I am a developer myself and love innovating and innovators and have the greatest respect for all that our country has given to the world. This piece is a rant against only those few individuals who make the rest of the India look bad by claiming authority over fake innovations.
Being a part of the semiconductor industry for quite some time, I was curious to find out how they achieved this feat which no one else including big name companies have been able to do even after years of research (XO-PC). I looked at the purported specs of the laptop and it struck me that yet again, the BoM itself was much more than 5000 INR. When I raised some questions about this, the “innovators” replied that they are saving all this money because they “developed their own processor DXA16″ which is equivalent to a 1.6GHz Intel Atom. What again raised even more doubts in mind was that they said their processor didn’t have anything to do with Intel and they didn’t even have to take an X86 license even though they claim windows support for the laptop, which means that their processor MUST be x86 compatible. Secondly, they mentioned that they have got jobs in TCS and CTS and won’t continue further. I’m completely flummoxed why an under-graduate student who has designed his own commercially viable micro processor in a college lab during a period when other students struggle to just write 10 line assembly programs, would go and join a mass-recruiting services company. If I was him, any company from Intel to TI to Qualcomm to ARM would be ready to hire me for any salary that I demanded. On top of this, they gave weird reasons to drop it that they want to do it only for Orissa and no other state, etc.
It was also mind-blowing that they made such great inventions but their own website doesn’t have even a single word about these. All they have there is the run of the mill Web-Hosting, SEO, site design, blah blah.
Anyways, another person on the same forum where I raised the doubts uncovered an ugly truth. Their data card is nothing but a rebranded chinese card. See this link: Cheap 3G Data Card.
Points to note:
1. This card has the exact same specs including speeds, features (e.g. same RAM, ROM amounts, sd card etc)
2. It costs around $35 for a single piece including shipping. So, for bulk purchase, you can easily get it much cheaper and sell it around the $30 price.
3. It looks exactly the same with just an iWebLeaf logo slapped over the version sold by these innovators.
iWebLeaf Data Card:
Chinese Data Card:
Laptop: I was even more skeptical about their laptop now. And I was flabbergasted with surprise when I found out that all it took me was around 2 minutes of search for “cheap chinese laptop” on china trader sites like alibaba/traderkey etc and I stumbled onto a company called Enzo-Tech. If I could do this in 2 minutes, couldn’t the rest of the mainstream media folks do a little bit of fact check with their vast resources? They produce a 10″ Mini Laptop which, just like the data card:
1. Has the exact same specs as the iWebLeaf laptop (except that they list Atom as the processor instead of DXA16, which is a farce anyways)
2. Looks exactly the same with just iWebLeaf stickers pasted all over. (Pics below)
The only concern here is that even this laptop is not available for the low price that iWebLeaf mentioned. This laptop sells for around $200 in small quantities. If bought for very large quantities (e.g. in thousands or 10s of thousands by a government), the price would come down radically and with a little bit more of subsidy, it can achieve the price that iWebLeaf mentioned. But it would still be “cost price”. Sale price to end users will have to be much higher due to customs, logistics, handling, shipping, etc even if they were to sell it on a no-profit basis.
What to make of it? I don’t have anything against these guys as entrepreneurs. They have every right to import, rebrand and resell products. A huge number of people and companies do this. What I take offense to, however, is to claim that they invented these things which isn’t true and then blame the Government for not allowing them to prosper by not spending the tax money I pay for their benefits. Moreover, this not only shames other “True” Indian innovators when these fakes are discovered but also sets wrong examples for our budding engineers to choose the shortest path possible to get 15 minutes of fame and then a job instead of really doing something to make the nation proud. I’m also yet again dis-illusioned by our mainstream media who will report anything and everything under the sun just to get more eyeballs and TRP without doing any sort of fact-checks. Yes, YOU SO CALLED TECH JOURNALISTS, I am calling you out.
In the end, I will make my offer to iWebLeaf guys again as I made to them elsewhere. Prove me wrong and I’ll myself heap praises upon you and your products through my blog and all other publications that I influence. Also, I will make sure to hire you in my company with at least 5 times the salary that you are getting in TCS/CTS.