Amida Simputer reports on the release of the Amida Simputer from PicoPeta:

The Amida Simputer, originally developed as a “poor man’s computer,” is now being pitched as a device that can handle a wide range of business and personal-computing requirements. The Linux-powered handheld combines the functions of an organizer and an MP3 player and has handwriting recognition capabilities.

The Amida Simputer is designed to enable scribbling and e-mailing of notes regardless of language, a key factor in the multilingual Indian market. It also has an on-screen keyboard for two Indian languages–Hindi and Kannada–with more languages to be added soon, the companies said.

The Amida Simputer comes in three models, with prices ranging from about $240 to $480 (9,950 to 19,950 rupees). It is powered by a 206MHz ARM processor and features 32MB of permanent storage, 64MB of RAM, a 3.8-inch touch screen and a smart-card reader. It can be connected to a landline or a Code Division Multiple Access phone for Internet browsing, and it doubles as an MP3 player.

Dana Blankenhorn had asked my thoughts, to which I had replied:

  • Most Indians don’t need a portable device; they need something affordable with the form factor of a regular computer
  • I think Simputer is trying to go after the global Linux PDA different. In doing so, they also want to address the domestic low-cost portable computer market.
  • Price points are still too high. Need to be USD 100 (Rs 4,500) or so.

  • Added Dana:

  • This is a remarkable achievement. India is not known for hardware, and this is hardware.
  • That said, Rajesh is right, in that it’s limited in capabilities and the price is high.
  • Linux is an interesting choice for an operating system, and the release of the Simputer may spur rapid development of Linux-based PDA applications.
  • Compare this to what you get today in a $100 cell phone. Then look at what such phones will look like next year, or in two years, and you see the difficulty Amida faces.
  • Both Rajesh and I may be underestimating the number of units that can be sold on patriotism.

    Sometimes it’s not how well the cat sings that’s at issue, but the fact that it sings at all. This is Version 1.0 Indian hardware. It’s out now. It’s a story well-worth following.

  • Emerging Wireless Technologies

    USA Today covers four of them – WiMax, 802.16e, 802.11n and UWB.

    WiMax: Unlike current Wi-Fi hot spots, which have a reach of about 300 feet, WiMax stations will be able to send and receive signals up to 30 miles away. This makes them ideal for the “last-mile” problem that plagues many neighborhoods that are too remote to receive Internet access via cable or DSL.

    802.16e: The downside to WiMax is that it is a “fixed access” system, meaning that customers must mount a dishlike antenna outside their home or office to access it. To get around this, researchers are developing an extension to WiMax called 802.16e. The goal of 802.16e is to allow consumers to connect to the Internet while they are “moving at vehicular speeds.”

    802.11n: Researchers expect 802.11n to increase the speed of Wi-Fi connections by 10 to 20 times. Although many home users won’t be able to benefit from the additional speed right away, because of limits on their cable or DSL connections, businesses are hoping the technology will allow them to forgo the burden of laying and maintaining Ethernet cabling throughout the building.

    UWB: Dubbed Ultrawideband, the technology is intended primarily for in-home use to connect computers, stereos and TVs to one another without wires. When it is launched in mid-2005, Ultrawideband also will let users stream MP3s from their computers to their stereos and record TV shows on their computers, as long as the devices are within 30 feet of one another.

    Flash in the Enterprise

    Jon Udell recommends Macromedia’s Flex presentation server to build rich Internet apps:

    After a decade of web-style development, Im sold on the idea of using markup languages to describe the layouts of user interfaces and to coordinate the event-driven code that interconnects widgets and binds them to data. The original expression of that model was HTML and JavaScript, but variations have flourished.

    Mozilla-based applications have been using XUL (XML User Interface Language) for years. The Laszlo Presentation Server uses a description language called LZX. Now Microsoft has previewed XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) for Longhorn.

    Now comes MXML (Macromedia Flex Markup Language), the latest development in Macromedias ongoing quest to reposition the near-ubiquitous Flash player as a general-purpose presentation engine for rich Internet applications.

    As with the Laszlo product we reviewed last fall, Macromedias Flex is a Java-based and XML-driven presentation server. You can deploy it to an existing J2EE server on Windows, Linux, or Solaris, or use the included JRun server. Nothing about Flex inherently requires a J2EE environment, however, and Macromedia is working on an implementation for .Net, too. But for the time being, it only supports Java app servers.

    Technology Usage in Asia

    WSJ writes: ” Intel Corp. senior researcher Genevieve Bell makes a science out of being nosy. As a cultural anthropologist for the American microchip giant, she has spent the last two and a half years hanging out in 100 homes across seven Asian countries, watching how ordinary folks tinker with computers and gadgets…Ms. Bell has come to some conclusions with serious implications for technology makers and marketers: Globalization is not going to produce a globally uniform consumer, because gadgets such as cellphones and Wi-Fi laptops are being used in different ways around the world.” Excerpts from the interview:

    In Asia, people’s identities are not just about themselves as individuals….The self is part of a family and a lineage and a clan or a village. Often, technology is consumed at those levels rather than an individual level. And that has consequences from how you brand things, to how you accommodate multiple users on a single device.

    There are some usage models that we hadn’t very well anticipated. In Asia, there is much more of an emphasis on education, on family communication, on forms of social reciprocity, as a portal to your government, as well as around religion….It’s not about rational productivity or just entertainment.

    In China and India and across Asia, you will find a very different sensibility about how you use technology in public, and about the notion of publicly available and shared resources. It is totally unimaginable to Americans that you would have a public cellphone-charging station. All they can imagine is that technology sells them something that they can personally use, not access something which is publicly shared.

    Business Process Innovation

    Business World has an interview with SAP’s Shai Agassi on the growing importance of process innovation. Excerpts:

    Ten years ago the challenge was to reduce the time a market opportunity was spotted to the time a company was able to develop an appropriate product, get parts from suppliers and ship it to the customers. By and large we have brought that down. Companies can do that in two weeks to a month. The next phase will be about change management.

    The time between a CEO deciding on a strategy and the IT systems reflecting that strategy is what is a challenge today. Today there is a difference of at least a year or 18 months between a strategic decision and the IT systems reflecting that change. This is because a lot of time we are dealing with software code that is not in accordance with the business model. The main change you will see over the next three years is that software firms will move from shipping code to shipping executable business models.

    [The technological things that will make this possible are] the emergence of web services standards and what we call the enterprise services architecture. The enterprise service architecture will take existing engines like, say, finance or production, and repackage them by combining them to form new applications. (Thus, combine finance with production to get the optimum capacity utilisation.)

    This is a very big change – the creation of enterprise-wide platforms to get integration from one end to another complete with user integration, process integration, including data and knowledge integration, in one environment.

    This seems quite similar to the points made by Howard Smith and Peter Fingar in their book “Business Process Management.”

    Future of Grocery Shopping

    WSJ writes:

    Nancy Lafreniere has never worked in a supermarket but she can ring up groceries faster than the most seasoned cashier. Her edge: a wireless computer on the front of her shopping cart at the Super Stop & Shop in the Boston suburb where she lives.

    Ms. Lafreniere uses a hand-held bar-code reader called the “Shopping Buddy” to scan all of the groceries herself as she walks through the aisles. The computer keeps a running tally of her purchases, and since it knows her shopping habits, it also can offer appropriate instant discount coupons for items right on the aisle she’s cruising. All Ms. Lafrieniere does at the checkout counter is pay and go.

    Across the country, a small but growing number of supermarkets are testing a variety of high-tech gadgets designed to change the way people shop and the way stores promote their products. The technology goes way beyond the last wave of innovations such as self-checkout kiosks, which basically automate the familiar checkout process.

    Starting in July, customers at four Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. stores in Charleston and Columbia, S.C., will be able to pay for their groceries by placing their finger on a scanner at checkout, eliminating the need for cash, checks or credit cards. The 123-store chain is testing technology by Pay By Touch, a consumer-payment service, that links shoppers’ credit cards or bank accounts with a digital image of their finger. The scanner doesn’t store actual fingerprints, but takes a set of images and then encrypts that data to create a digital identity. To use the new technology, customers must first create an account with the store by scanning their finger, entering an access code and providing a loyalty card, credit card or bank-account information.

    TECH TALK: As India Develops: ICT (Part 3)

    Much of Indias industry and institutions is still in the Dark Age of technology adoption, even as their competition is now global. Unless Indian industry achieves high levels of productivity and efficiency, it is difficult to see how they will compete with their international competitors. In India, we have also not managed to create a big domestic market for information technology solutions. All this needs to change.

    Writing in The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries, James Cortada explains the context in which computers became to the part of the fabric of the US economy through the second half of the 20th century:

    Businesses came to use computers not because they increasingly became less expensive but because they performed functions (applications) deemed beneficial or necessary for the enterprise. Declines in unit costs did not mean that overall expenditures for computers dipped; in fact, just the exact opposite occurred because as more systems came online, more programmers and other technical staff were needed to maintain and operate them, and more end users had to be trained and supported as well. Yet, overall economies of scale always counted as work shifted to computers and thus away from other sources of expense, or created new capabilities that had economic value. In short, computers made it possible for management to perform tasks less expensively than with earlier information technologies (e.g. adding machines) or manual operations and to do things not practically possible with previous methods (e.g. analyzing millions of customers for trends). Machines were now used to improve efficiency, to lower operating costs, to be seen as modern and to be competitive in an economy that increasingly relied on more, faster, and ever more precise technologies.

    In India, so far, the cost of labour has been far cheaper than that of capital (in this case, technology). We have preferred to use our labour and stay in the low-cost, low-quality quadrant in many industries. In this equation, if we can now bring in affordable technology, it should be possible for Indian entrepreneurs and managers to automate their businesses, achieve greater scale and be able to better compete on a global level. Only then can we create a positive, virtuous cycle of increasing domestic incomes and increasing consumption.

    What the affordable computing platform does is create a foundation for massive adoption of technology in India. Look at how cellphone usage has skyrocketed India is now adding more than two million users a month, and is expected to cross a user base of 100 million within the next years. As we have demonstrated, it is possible to bring down the price point of computing to that of a handset without any compromise on the versatility, functionality and form factor. By empowering individuals and enterprises with the right technologies at the right price points, India can build out its digital infrastructure in the next five years and create the necessary base for all-round development. The leads needs to be taken by Indias manufacturing sector.

    Tomorrow: ICT (Part 4)

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