A cheap handheld computer, designed by Indian scientists for use by the poor, went on sale Friday for $220 after a delay of nearly three years.
Simputer's software was developed by volunteers, to keep development costs low, said Swami Manohar, chief executive of Picopeta Simputers, at the model's launch. Picopeta Simputers and Encore Software are the two companies licensed to make the devices.
The launch of the Simputer was delayed due to a lack of investment and a poor response to the concept from large-scale distributors, Manohar said.
However, the government-owned Bharat Electronics agreed to manufacture the Simputer, which was developed in 2001 by scientists at the Bangalore-based Institute of Science in response to low levels of computer use in India.
The Simputer is available in Bangalore and will be available across India by April 1, he said.
Picopeta hopes to sell 50,000 units in the fiscal year ending March 2005, Manohar said.
The Simputer doesn't have a keyboard, although it can be attached to one. Instead it has a stylus that allows the user to "write" on the screen.
The basic model has a monochrome display, a 206 megahertz processor and 64 megabytes of memory. It has an internal microphone, speakers and a battery that lasts for six hours.
The device can even be connected to the Internet, Manohar said.
To keep costs down, it uses the Linux operating system, which does not require a license.
Only nine in every 1,000 Indians own a computer. Until now, they have been unaffordable to most — especially the rural poor — because of low wages and high taxes on computers.
Tax cuts have recently brought prices down, pushing up demand in cities. But most Indian villagers can't afford to buy a basic desktop, which costs about $450.
Picopeta also launched two other versions of the Simputer with additional features at $276 and $443. They are likely to appeal to more affluent users, Manohar said.