We recently had the opportunity to meet up with Mr. Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of Datawind, at a press event titled “Clearing the Air” which the company held to clarify their position in the whole controversy related to the Aakash tablet. We were able to talk to him and glean some much needed information about how the process of launching a tablet became so convoluted and what we can look forward to in the future.
Sir, can you elaborate on your fallout with Quad Electronics and their claims regarding pending payments and poaching their talent?
Mr. Tuli: We sub-contracted Quad Electronics to manufacture units of the Aakash tablets and from our end; they have been paid in full. They supplied 8000 units, out of which IIT Rajasthan rejected all but 600 units and the only pending payment is for those 600 units that are now IIT Rajasthan’s responsibility. Furthermore, Quad went behind our back and signed an MoU with IIT Rajasthan to manufacture a “convergence device” which would not be competitive to our tablet, but that is just clever wordplay. No-one has been able to tell me what a “convergence device” actually is, they are just sugar coating the fact that they’re building a tablet and that is highly unethical. As far as talent poaching goes, we have no employees from Quad, current or former, at all. No employee of Quad has even interviewed for us or even sent us their résumé. This idea of poaching is a complete lie.
Now that Quad is out of the picture, who is the new assembler for Aakash?
Mr. Tuli: We have decided not to publicly reveal the name of the new assembler for Aakash, it doesn’t really matter. Generally, most manufacturers do not announce the name of their sub-contract manufacturers and after the whole controversy with Quad; we would like to stay silent as well. We want the public to think of Aakash as a Datawind device and latch on to our brand. We’re the one’s making it. Though if pressure from the public and the press forces us to, we might reveal the name in the future, but presently we want to stay quiet.
Can't tell you who's actually making it right now
Recent reports indicate that Aakash has reached only 366 students. Can you give us clear figures of pre-orders received, tablets manufactured and shipped?
Mr. Tuli: We have not received a single pre-order for Aakash, distributing Aakash is the government’s responsibility. On the other hand, we have received well over 3 million pre-orders for Ubislate 7, the consumer version of Aakash, and we are receiving upwards of 10,000 new pre-orders everyday and we have decided not to share any specific numbers after 3 million as the figure has become absurdly large. Also, we are a small company and such high demand was completely unprecedented so it will take us some time to catch up to the demand. I cannot provide any concrete numbers but we will try to catch up within the next two weeks and customers will receive upgraded versions of the tablet at the same price.
With the ongoing blame game between Quad and Datawind, will there be a further delay in tablet shipments?
Mr. Tuli: Now that IIT Mumbai has taken over the project, along with our new sub-contract manufacturers, if all goes well and it passes through testing rapidly, we would be able to launch the upgraded Aakash 2 by May 2012. As far as Ubislate shipments are concerned, we shall try to catch up within the upcoming weeks.
Can you elaborate on the shipment details of the Aakash 2?
Mr. Tuli: We are currently in the process of providing IIT Mumbai 100 test units, which would hopefully be approved post-haste and the Minister would be able to launch it in May, but if it doesn’t meet their specifications and changes have to be made, then it will take more time. And it will be a gradual roll-out, starting with around 20-50,000 and to ensure that all 2 Crore university students get them in their hands, it should take about 2 years.
Akash 2 on the horizon
Finally, what about Datawind’s fallout with IIT Rajasthan? You have stated that they were trying to defame your company.
Mr. Tuli: All throughout the product cycle of Aakash, we kept sending them units that met their specifications, which they kept rejecting until they were satisfied with one of them and placed an order for 8000 units, but even after placing that purchase order they changed their mind again and set up highly unscientific test criteria. Also, they plagiarized military-ruggedized test criteria from HP laptops and told us to create a cheap tablet that could resist 4 inches per hour of rain and 20G of force, which as you can imagine is quite impossible. After which, they went behind our back and floated a limited tender (excluding Datawind) for a tablet in which they did not include the mil-spec list. All in all, their practices were far from ethical and the statements that the Director of IIT made in the public media along the lines of “The device should not catch fire if it falls from a table” were highly defamatory.