Tomorrow's $12 Laptop: Redefining Markets with Suppliers in India

Even though Tata's recent attempt to redefine what it should cost to build a car has met with some delays, the story is but one of many I suspect we'll see coming out of India in the years to come. Following on the footsteps of the forthcoming launch of Tata's Nano is this news that India wants to introduce an $11 notebook computer. How will they do it? By working with local, innovative low-cost suppliers -- that's how. Even if the computer does not materialize at this price point -- heck, let's say it costs three times the intended target -- such a design would redefine an entire category, bringing the modern world within a thumbtap of those who must wait for computing time at their local school, library or government building today. Or as the above-linked Times Online article puts it, the effort "will mark the most ambitious attempt yet to bring computers to the developing world and to bridge the "digital divide" between rich and poor.

But what's fascinating to me from a Spend Management perspective about this effort is the dependence on local technology, ingenuity and low cost labor that could bring it to fruition at this ridiculously low price point. While the "plans to cut the price to the bone appear to hinge on the use of domestic technology," it's specifically worth pointing out that India -- not China -- appears to be the developing economy that is taking the most innovative steps to bring new, low-cost products to life that change paradigms entirely versus simply trying to re-engineer products originally once made in the West at a lower price point. We would all agree that India has a long way to go in terms of bridging the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural and educated and uneducated, but it's approaches like this that leverage the very best creative thinking -- not to mention the ingenuity and can-do approach of the Indian supply market -- that suggests to me that India might very well be the developing market that emerges from the global recession on top.

- Jason Busch

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