As we often think of India as a rapidly-developing, high-tech-focused nation, it's sobering to learn that there are only about 13 million personal computers there (in a nation of over a billion people). Projects like the "$100 Computer" seem well-suited for this market, but the spread of information technology in the world's largest democracy may well come from a local source. Encore Software, one of the makers of the Simputer, today announced a new design -- the Mobilis.
The stats on the system (PDF) are impressive, particularly given its Rs.10,000-Rs.20,000 price (about $230-$460). It can be used as a tablet or as a stand-up portable desktop, and weighs about a pound (~500 grams). Encore promises six hours of battery life, which sounds amazing to those of us accustomed to 2.5-3.5 hour laptops, but is mitigated somewhat by the lack of a hard drive; the Mobilis stores all of its data on Smart Cards. The basic version has a wired modem and ethernet, and the more expensive version includes GPS and a GPRS modem. The core OS is Linux, of course, customized for the local market with a variety of language options and a text-to-speech feature.
Will the Mobilis take off? I'm not sure; I still think that information tools for much of the world will evolve from the mobile phone, and not be limited-utility PCs. But the Mobilis clearly has greater functionality than the similarly-priced Simputer, without significantly added heft (the Simputer is smaller, but still too large to fit easily into a pocket). At the sub-$500 price point, I could see these devices doing relatively well in the West, with a few minor changes. Ultimately, it will come down to whether the devices have a sufficient variety of applications of direct value to the people they're selling to. That sounds obvious, but it's not uncommon to see new tech rolled out without much consideration of whether anyone is actually interested.
If the Mobilis succeeds, it will be worth celebrating. If it fails, it will be a failure worth learning from.