The New Role for India’s $35 Laptop Could Be a Kindle Killer

There are sure signs that Amazon is worried about Apple’s iPad. Their focus on rolling out a “cheap” version of the new Kindle WiFi, scheduled to ship August 27th with a $139 starting price point compared to the current $189 version, will undoubtedly tempt some customers to rush out and buy one.

But Amazon shouldn’t be worried about the iPad as a Kindle killer. They should be thinking about India, not Apple.

When the new Kindle is compared to India’s $35 laptop,  and its price target of $10,  it looks a lot less attractive.

In a previous piece, I wrote off the $35 laptop as a wannabe computer because it lacked a number of important features, like the ability to store the large amounts of data usually associated with a hard disk or high capacity solid state drive. I still stand by this opinion.

But when the laptop is looked at as an alternative, cheap ebook reader in comparison to the Kindle or Apple’s iPad, it easily wins hands-down. This makes it especially attractive to me since I said I’d buy an ebook reader if it was priced below $50.

In India, targeting the ebook reader market could potentially be a match made in heaven, especially if you factor in that India’s schools are moving towards using laptops as a textbook replacement.

The one-time capital expenditure incurred with purchasing these computers would be than offset by the paper savings. Schools could load textbooks in an ebook format rather than stock their printed equivalents. And there’s more than ample time to recoup the costs over the 4-year or 10-year academic cycle of the students using them.

That’s fine for India, but what about us?

A $35 ebook reader could revitalize reading for a generation weaned on the Internet, video games, and cell phones. But it’s not a perfect solution because the laptop’s Linux OS will likely need a tweak or mod to be anywhere near the usability of the Apple OS. An intuitive user interface and a suite of useful apps would make it even more attractive.

After all, what’s a platform without widgets, apps and content?  And while apps are meant to up sell a device and distract the buyer with toys in order to pay more for a phone or for a reading device they have been the bugbear of many new computing platforms, whether you’re referring to the Palm PDA, Sharp Zaurus or until recently, the iPod.

But there are practical issues before India slays the Kindle. Costs associated with marketing, importing, and distribution to other countries have a way of inflating price. And, while hip with geeks, Linux hardly has adoption among the masses.

But with a $35 price point the India laptop has an advantage in low market cost over any device.  It does face an obstacle in regards to access to a reading inventory. It’s doubtful, after all, that Amazon will hand over theirs. Fortunately, having such an inventory accessible is a small hurdle, especially when there is quality content available, like the 33,000 books found at sites like Project Gutenberg.

Combine this inventory with cross platform compatibility into other ebook stores and the $35 laptop is suddenly an attractive proposition. The point is that as an ebook reader a device such as the one India has developed has tantalizing prospects and the ability to create market shift as well as be a potential Kindle killer.

About Andrew Wee

You can find Andrew Wee on Twitter @andrewwee

3 Responses to The New Role for India’s $35 Laptop Could Be a Kindle Killer

  1. CT Moore says:

    Comparing price points vs functionality, I thought that the iPad was a Kindle Killer 😉

  2. Gab Goldenberg says:

    There's also the point about it not being as enjoyable/comfortable reading long amounts of text off a screen relative to off a printed book. It makes a difference, but I can't imagine 100% replacement or paper books.

  3. Saicharan says:

    To compare ipad and kindle to something which is just a joke and and that which is not to come even in a decade is mere waste of time. Adding linux, media players, colour lcds etc would only make it less reliable and distracting. Kindle's model is good enough if we could work to modify and optimize for India. May be kindle could take the wifi off and sell a basic model for something in range Rs 3000-4000. What Indians need is a low cost kindle like device that is