April 01, 2004

The Simputer

A while back I wrote about the role of Linux in supporting smaller and less wealthy languages. Other virtues of Linux are that there are no licensing costs and that it can readily be adapted. All of these virtues play a role in the Simputer,

a low cost portable alternative to PCs, by which the benefits of IT can reach the common man
designed and manufactured in India, and aimed initially at the Indian market.

The Simputer is designed to be portable so it can easily be shared and can be used on the go. It is powered by ordinary AAA batteries, so it can be used where electrical power is not available or unreliable. It uses cheap Smart Cards to store personal data, so people who cannot afford their own Simputer can share one.

Naturally, the Simputer supports Indian languages. Currently it provides word processing in Hindi and Kannada; other Indian languages are being added. It also allows you to write with a stylus on electronic Paper, which it will store and transmit, so you can use any writing system you like.

Because many people in India are illiterate (30% of men, 50% of women), it was designed to facilitate use by people with limited or no literacy skills:

The key to bridging the digital divide is to have shared devices that permit truly simple and natural user interfaces based on sight, touch and audio. The Simputer meets these demands through a browser for the Information Markup Language (IML). IML has been created to provide a uniform experience to users and to allow rapid development of solutions on any platform.

The Simputer includes a voice recorder, so that people can use it to send voice messages. It also includes text-to-speech software, capable of synthesizing speech in Indian languages from Unicode text.

It's a cool idea, so I'm pleased that the Simputer and I share a birthday. If you want to check out the actual product or maybe even buy one, go to the web site of the manufacturer, Amida Simputer.

Posted by Bill Poser at April 1, 2004 08:26 PM