TECH TALK: Mass Market Internet: The Ideal Device

What would be the characteristics of the ideal low-cost access device for countries like India? The focus is on a narrowband transactional device, one which uses the Internet like a utility.

Inputs: on-screen keyboard (the mass market does not know how to type) with support for multiple local languages, audio (everyone can speak), and handwritten text captured as an image. Handwriting recognition is useful, but not critical.

Outputs: a display (like the Palm or Visor — monochrome would do just fine), speakers (combined with audio input, they would be great for internet telephony, which is still illegal in India). The speakers can also enable playback of MP3 music. Connectivity to a printer or a TV would be useful for “larger” displays would help.

Communications: a telephone line RJ-11 jack with a software modem. To start with, it could have IR or Bluetooth support so it can work well in the home, and doesn’t have to be in a fixed place.

Buttons: 4 buttons to offer easy access to email, instant messenger, a personalized page, and one for bookmarks to link to other favourite sites. Pressing any of the buttons should automatically connect the user to the Internet.

Storage: some flash memory, so this can also serve as an offline music/audio player.

Power: batteries, and external power. The batteries combined with IR/Bluetooth allow the device to be moved and used within the house.

OS: Linux, so no royalties need to be paid out.

Cost: USD 50, so that it is rentable for less than USD 4 per month.

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