Simputer Learnings

Sydney Morning Herald has a story by Supriya Singh:

Professor Swami Manohar, one of the original group of designers of the Simputer, says: “We have learnt that ideas and technology alone do not make a success . . . You have to succeed in the market.”

Manohar is a computer scientist with the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He is also the chief executive of PicoPeta Simputers, one of the two companies developing the Simputer. He says publicity that it was a simple, cheap computer for the poor and illiterate “gave it the stigma of ‘ration rice’. Even the poor see the more expensive rice as the better rice. It is marketing and packaging that influence the decision makers.”

Marketing did not, however, convince the decision makers in and out of government who would have funded the purchase of the Simputer, so now its supporters are going directly to the retail market.

Looking back over the five years since the concept was articulated, he says: “We should have marketed it as world-class technology that makes computing simpler for everyone. World-class development is the right thing also for the poor.”

It is the “daughter syndrome”, says Professor S. Sadagopan, director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, also in Bangalore. “You love your daughter so much that you cannot stand to give her away in marriage. Hence they did not make the deals that came to them from foreign companies.”

Others say the timing is wrong. PCs in 2001 were selling for 50,000 Indian rupees ($1500). PDAs and mobile phones were not as popular. But now some universities are using PCs with Linux and a Taiwanese chip, costing less than $300. Mobile phones in India are now among the cheapest in the world. So why would somebody spend $450 on a hand-held computer?

The Simputer team is betting that the quality of the technology, aided by better marketing, will make the difference. “It is the device you want to have,” Manohar says.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.