A small Indian start-up founded by a handful of college kids shakes up the tablet computer market by developing a technological wonder that has a legion of fanboys worldwide.
Bangalore has become a scare word for Western companies. Ask Barack Obama or John McCain and they’ll tell you that more than China or a resurgent Russia, what keeps them awake most nights is the fear that the Indian city will take the remaining jobs in America.
Until now only software and accounting jobs were being transferred to India. But now comes the hardware hunt led by Indian tablet computer maker Notion Ink and suddenly the likes of Apple are getting nervous.
That’s because the best tablet on the planet currently is not the Apple iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or Motorola’s Xoom but Notion Ink’s Adam.
The what? A-D-A-M: the best tablet you have not heard of. As the tech website Crunchgear wrote earlier this year, “This kit isn’t coming from a high-profile outlet with deep distribution channels. It’s coming from a start-up fuelled by nothing but raw passion. For us at Crunch Gear, the Adam isn’t the fascinating part of the story; it’s the wide-eyed company and its crazy fan boys.”
“Created with love by Notion Ink Design Labs in India,” says the manufacturer’s message on the back of every Adam tablet computer. That’s what it is all about – a labour of love by a handful of college kids from India’s premier Indian Institutes of Technology.
That’s it – the young and the restless techies led by their mercurial and media savvy CEO, Rohan Shravan, have developed a tablet computer that has ruptured the fabric of the electronics universe. The Adam has grabbed so much attention online that while the iPad is merely popular, the Indian machine has a cult following.
So if you are planning to buy a tablet computer, don’t make a move until you read this, for it could save you hundreds of dollars. The cheapest iPad costs $500 while the most expensive one will set you back by around $800. The Adam costs a lot less, starting at $375 while giving you much more, plus more features are coming via updates.
Other tablets can’t seem to avoid ending up like the iPad, which is perhaps why Apple has launched a copycat lawsuit against Samsung. However, the Adam has a unique, ergonomic and wedge-shaped design with a curved rubberised edge. This improves visibility and ensures you won’t drop it accidentally.
The tablet sports a 10-inch screen with a resolution of 1024x600. Its other features include a 178 degree rotating swivel camera and a PixelQi screen, which makes it the only tablet you can read in direct sunlight. Try reading the iPad outdoors and you’ll see what I mean.
The only problem with the Adam is getting one. Every single Adam is sold out. As a loyal fan I’d been waiting for their release date and I assumed I could just buy it off their website.
Well, I was wrong. Notion Ink only invited those people who had posted comments on the company’s blog for exclusive sales. Now, that left me completely pissed. I wrote them a stinker which they never published. Free speech is apparently dangerous to a start-up’s health. However, during the next round of ordering which came after a few weeks, I managed to order one.
It took a month to arrive in NZ but finally I had my ‘aha’ moment. The Adam is a totally cool machine and it will give anyone hours of joy. Whether it is taking notes, reading PDF’s, scrolling photos, or video playback, the experience is outstanding.
For wireless connectivity Adam has Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth. Apart from that it has an ambient light sensor, GPS, proximity sensor and accelerometer. It also offers HDMI, three USB ports, a SIM card slot and a mini SD card slot which expands the storage by another 128 GB.
The 3.2 MP auto focus camera is not the best in its class but under the right conditions it takes great photos. People I have interviewed have gone crazy about the tablet, and some have insisted I use the photo taken with the Adam than with my company issued Nikon.
Like me there are legions of satisfied buyers with wonderful stories to tell. Says one proud owner from Belize in Central America: “The delivery was unconventional, though. TNT routed it through Santiago, Chile, to Miami. In Miami, TNT ‘delivered’ it to a customs broker/importer, who got it to Belize City. From there it hitched a ride with a Marie's hot sauce delivery truck driver, who brought it to us. We paid 12.5% sales tax, plus $40 US in customs broker fees. Not too bad, really.”
Oh yes, there are detractors. Some users have experienced software glitches – which are expected from a start-up – but to their credit Rohan and his team sent regular updates which smoothened out any wrinkles.
The Adam also suffered at the hands of amateurish tech writers. They pointed out the rants left by dissatisfied users on blogs, but they forget that Apple’s iPhone 4 also suffered from antenna and other problems. In fact, a colleague of mine ordered an iPad but sent it back for a replacement because of a faulty screen.
It is heart warming that a small Indian company has attracted so many fans around the world. A measure of its quality is that its biggest fans are in the US and Europe who have access to the best tablets in the world.
In India, it faced a different – if predictable – hiccup. Rohan revealed on his blog that a container of Adams was held up at Mumbai Customs because Notion Ink refused to pay a bribe.
Despite the viral marketing coup, Notion Ink is still relatively unknown outside the blogosphere, and Apple has a seemingly unbeatable lead. Asked if he was worried about the iPad2, Rohan said: “Not really. The market is too big for one product to rule. And we are here for decades to come, so we want to take our time to become a threat to anyone.”
According to their website, “Notion Ink is young at heart, and proud to wear it on its sleeve. Youth gives us that extra edge in bringing a whole new realm of concepts to reality.”
That spunk was evident at CES 2010, the electronic world’s premier event. Because Notion Ink could not afford a booth, Rohan simply walked around the show area with the Adam in his hands, giving interviews to reporters.
To provide better service, the company now has plans for stores in the US, Germany and India. “Right now we are into the process of scaling up and looking for more talent,” says Rohan, who managed a coup of sorts by poaching people from iTunes.
What Notion Ink has done is what India is traditionally good at – leveraging high tech talent to produce brilliant products that – to Western competitors – are frighteningly cheap. Satellite and rocket maker ISRO can build a moon craft for $100 million, Tata sells a $3000 car, Mahindra makes a $5,000 SUV, and Olive offers a $40 smart phone.
The Indian computer market will never be the same. Notion Ink has shown the lead to other Indian companies, and today nine other players have either launched tablets or plan to.
Bangalore is not yet the technological epicentre of the known universe, but after the Adam it can legitimately aspire to that title.
(About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features writer at New Zealand’s leading media house. He has previously worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor with the Financial Express.)
Notion Ink Adam Tablet
Notion Ink Adam Tablet
Pic is taken with Adam's camera