t byfield on Sun, 28 Mar 2004 14:20:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> finally, the simputer

slashdot notes the release, finally, of the 'simputer.'[1] the funny thing
is, it doesn't much resemble the obect of the heartfelt rhetoric about how
it would be the missing link needed to connect the impoverished rural popu-
lations of south asia -- at least, they don't figure very heavily in the
'gallery' of pictures[2] showing it being used as an MP3 player by an urban
teenybopper, as a handy CDMA-compatible(!) interface for surfing the net,
as a way for bourgie housewives to plan party expenses, for busy execs to
sort their day, etc. with a few exceptions (screen-based hindi and kannada
keyboards[3] -- 'which you can invoke whenever that patriotic itch takes
over') it seems to be a pretty generic touchscreen PDA, right down to the
GUI's iconic buttons: cascading 'stacks' of papers, magnifying glasses
annotated with +/-, trash/rubbish/dustbin, envelope, a speaker in
cross-section, question marks, checkbox, and the like. the site also has a
'funzone' with links to ('legal!') MP3 sources and the normal litany: yahoo
mail, WiReD news, ananova, merriam-webster's online dictionary, etc, etc.
the site also bills the device as able to interpret haptic input:

     All this is possible thanks to the built-in Flip Flop Motion 
     Sensor (geeks bizarrely call it "accelerometer"), again a first 
     for the Amida Simputer.[4]

the product line and pricing are pretty standard, too: three models that
range from US$240 to $480.[5] as is connectivity: 20 free hours of the
'gold' service from the indian ISP sify[6] -- after which 500 hours of
dialup is ~US$76. a pop3 email account comes free with the two higher-
end models (the lowest of which is ironically [or not] called the 'en-
terprise edition'). and only the same two higher-end models include IR
or USB ports, which presumably would be useful for device-to-device 
communications -- a crucial function, one would think, for users whose
connectivity is limited by cost or available services. but, really, the
FAQ[7] says it all, albeit in dodgily polemical terms. for example:

     3. Isn't a Simputer for poor and illiterate people?

     It is true that the Amida Simputer is a very affordable 
     computer, and that it is simple enough to be used by 
     people who no prior experience with computers. 


     8. Does Amida have MS-Word and Excel?

     Amida's word processors and spreadsheet are especially
     designed to be of maximum utility to you, wherever you
     go. e.g., you can use Amida to write and print notes in
     not only English but also Indian languages like Hindi
     and Kannada. Or, if you do not want to use a keyboard,
     you can handwrite on Amida in any language you please.
     Similarly, Amida has a spreadsheet (Khatha) which is a
     great tool for personal finances, especially when on
     the move.

     But if you specifically mean Word and Excel, the answer
     is "no". We believe that Word and Excel are unsuitable
     for mobile usage. Think of it this way: Amida heralds a
     new wave of mobile computing in which word processors
     and spreadsheets do not have to look like Word and

afaict, the simputer site is silent on the subject of the OS running
the device; but the site's screenshots look pretty linuxish, which
would support past reports about the simputer's development.

it'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Win CE seems to support
hindi, at least on the level of GUI text,[8] as well as unicode in the
form of a BMP of ISO 10646;[9] since MS doesn't specify which unicode
version they're referring to, i assume it's the current one, which in-
cludes several south asian scripts (bengali, devanagari, gujarati, gur-
mukhi, kannada, tamil, telugu, etc). so, (many) other issues, the sim-
puter looks like it's lagging far behind mainstream mobile devices in
terms of language support. and, to the extent that language support is
a mirror, however dark, of local prestige, i expect it'll be an uphill
battle for the simputer: if it's perceived as being more ideological
than practical (i.e., in step with the dominant face of IT in south 
asia: MS), its second selling point will be that it's locallly designed
and maybe even locally assembled -- though i wouldn't bet on the latter.


[1] http://slashdot.org/articles/04/03/27/1744204.shtml
[2] http://amidasimputer.com/gallery/
[3] http://amidasimputer.com/languages/
[4] http://amidasimputer.com/flip-flop/
[5] http://www.amidasimputer.com/models/
[6] http://www.sifycorp.com/aboutus.asp
[7] http://amidasimputer.com/faqs/
[8] http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/guide_ppc/htm/metabase_jycp.asp
[9] http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnce30/html/locplatform30.asp

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