The Aakash 2, an upgraded version of the $35 Aakash tablet, is on its way to being released, based on reports that India’s government has approved the device’s specifications. The Aakash project has faced repeated delays, and some initial shipments were rejected over conflicting statements related to unacceptable defect rates and non-settlement of payment; as a result, the original Aakash tablet was never made widely available. Since the project was transferred to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay three months ago, there is now software for video lectures, online tests, and an assignment submission system; in addition, students can write software for the Aakash 2 in C, C++, Python, and Scilab.

The Aakash 2 sports a 800MHz processor, a SD card slot, and a capacitive touchscreen instead of the original version’s resistive touchscreen. Battery capacity has been upgraded from 2,000mAh to 3,200mAh, which is expected to yield about three hours of usage (the battery life was corroborated by a school director who had early access to an Aakash 2).

The Android 2.2 tablet will be available to students at a subsidized price of 2,263 rupees, or US$39. The goal is to eventually put the tablets in more than 500 engineering colleges in India, with deployment scheduled to start in August 2012.

India’s fascination with low-cost products

The concept of innovating on the cost front has well-established roots in Indian businesses, which strive to create products that are affordable to the poor. In a nutshell, “frugal innovation” sees the elimination of sophisticated features in favor of simplicity and cost effectiveness. A article by former Indian Minister of State and member of India’s parliament Shashi Tharoor earlier this week sheds more light on this concept:

“Instead of complicating or refining their products, Indian innovators strip them down to their bare essentials, making them affordable, accessible, durable and effective.”

For now, India’s Minister for Human Resource & Development Kapil Sibal appears dismissive of the debacle that was the original Aakash. At the launch of the Aakash 2 a few weeks ago, he said:

“It is well known that ‘cost innovation’ of this kind requires some iterative process.”