Friday, July 30, 2010

India's low-cost laptop

The recent news of the launch of a $ 35 touch screen computing device was exhillirating. I believe most commentators including popular press missed the point of the idea. One report I read called it a joke, another said it was cutting corners on features and functionalities.

The problem is that moulds, standards, and yard sticks used to compare the innovation reference to a different market, different need, different opportunity. Trade press bellowed their feature comparison rhetoric that they would use to compare a Nokia or Samsung phone with an iPhone. The other camp went with the line that cheap means compromise.

Here's what most people were missing. Utility defines Innovation in the market that the $ 35 computing device is introduced into. In one market, Pepsi is used to down a fresh slice of Pizza. In another market, Pepsi is an inexpensive pesticide. So measure Innovation by its application not by its propagation.

Picture Credit: Reuters

The impact of the $ 35 laptop in India would be much more than the impact of Apple's disaggregation model in iTunes. Because while Apple revolutionised the music consumer experience, the "cheap" laptop would revolutionise the lives of people in whole not just in part as lifestye gadgets do. When millions of people are impacted with life changing experiences, that's Inclusive Innovation.

Many reports including the Reuter's report I have linked here, points to illiteracy as a deterrent to the use of smart technology. What if applications meant for the illiterate are rolled out on the device using intuitive pictorial interfaces. In one of the interviews for my book, a rural innovator tells me, that the notion that 'villagers' won't use technology effectively is rubbish. He tells me of an experiment conducted where a PC was installed in rural India for free use. Cameras recorded what people did with it. To everyone's surprise, people had figured out not just using the interfaces but also leveraged the internet for useful purposes relevant to them. The incapacity of mainstream industry, the press, and contemprory understanding of the application of technology in inclusive markets isn't helping. Is it? If you enjoyed reading this, consider buying India's Innovation Blueprint