The Aakash 2 tablet made headlines last year for two reasons: its ridiculously cheap price (about $40, even less when subsidized by the Indian government), and the ambitions of its manufacturer, Datawind, which wants to singlehandedly bridge the digital divide in the developing world by offering cheap Internet access through the devices. You had to wonder what would happen if such a dirt-cheap Android tablet were made available in the U.S. Well, wonder no longer because you can snap up the product, called the Ubislate 7Ci, for a mere $37.99.
Drastically dropping the price point on Internet-enabled tablets is bound to have at least some disruptive effect. Suneet Singh Tuli, Datawind’s CEO, tells Co.Design that the obvious U.S. niche for the Ubislate is the educational market–the tablets may be cheap enough to plop one at every desk in a classroom. But when the price of a tablet user experience becomes so low that it crosses the threshold of disposability (or nearly so), that’s when things get unpredictable.
What experiences can be designed around the fact that good-enough tablets can now be bought for nearly nothing? “Think anywhere that a screen could be used,” Tuli says. “At this price, [the Ubislate] is cheaper than a 7-inch picture frame.” Tuli suggested that cheap tablets could be handed out for free to hotel or spa guests, the same way complimentary water bottles are. They might not even need to be used as handheld devices. “Tablets like this could even be used as door-signs outside conference rooms, reflecting their availability,” Tuli continues. “Hospitals could use it for patient-forms. Any field collection of data makes for a great use case.”
The Ubislate doesn’t have the responsiveness of an iPad, but if you think outside the box of tablets-as-high-end-media-devices and instead think of them as disposable Internet screens, the user experience equation shifts. The most interesting thing about ultracheap tablets isn’t their price–it’ll be what unpredictable applications people come up with for them.