Simputer: Not so simple anymore

DQW Bureau
07 Jul 2006

Designed as a low-cost alternative to PCs, the Simputer is now seeing a greater degree of adoption in e-governance projects, education and NGO sectors besides enterprises in India. Experts however, feel the need to promote this technology better and educate the users on its latent potential.

It is a handheld device, re­garded as a PDA, having fea­tures that enables
seamless connec­tivity. It is a device that's a low-cost por­table
alternative to PCs, through which the benefits of IT can reach the common man.
This is the Simputer-an affordable PC with multiple connectivity options.

Launched in 2002, the Simputer was the result of an initiative from academics
and technologists in the industry with a broad objective of benefiting all
sections of the society. This group of people formed the Simputer Trust, which
comprised individuals from the Computer Science and Automation at the Indian
Institute of Science and from Encore Software in Banga­lore. Two Bangalore-based
firms-Encore Software and Picopeta Simputers-later decided to commercialize
the Simputer.

The Encore Simputer

This Simputer is based on GNU/Linux software techno­logy that is open and
modu­lar. The Linux Kernel version 2.4 has been ported to it. The initial
version of the Simputer is based on Intel's Strong­ARM CPU, which is a
Reduced Instruc­tion-set (RISC) micro­processor designed for embe­dded

The StrongARM has a high level of integration and performance at a relatively
low level of power consum­ption. To enable rapid deve­lopment and deployment
of application software, the basic develop­ment platform uses GTK. A Java
Virtual Mac­hine can also be provided for those appli­cation developers that
want to benefit from platform independence for their applications.

The primary connectivity option is a V.34/V.90 modem. There is also an IrDA
inter­face for inter-working with PCs and IrDA-compatible peripherals such as
printers. Finally, there is a built-in USB host port that can be used for
extension and periphe­rals that cannot be integra­ted within the device.

The Simputer operating system, tools and the main application reside in flash
ROM so that the system can quickly start operation when powered up. User
profiles can be stored in flash memory as accessible files or also in the
SmartCard. The Encore Sim­puter is available in four models 6432C, 3216C,
3216M, 1616M.

Variants of The Simputer
Encore Simputer
  • Based on GNU/Linux software technology
    that is open and modular with a Linux Kernel version 2.4 ported on it
  • Has Intel's StrongARM CPU, which is
    a RISC microprocessor designed for embedded applications
  • Has V.34/V.90 modem and an IrDA
    interface for inter-working with PCs and compatible peripherals
  • Built-in USB host port
  • OS, tools and main application reside
    in flash ROM
  • User profiles stored in flash memory
    or in the SmartCard
  • Available in four models - 6432C,
    3216C, 3216M, 1616M

Picopeta Simputer

  • Marketed as Amida Simputer, it comes
    with a Linux-based OS
  • Has two USB ports
  • Integrated SmartCard reader
  • A touch screen interface that does
    away with input devices like a mouse or keyboard
  • A standardized interface language
    called Information Markup Language (IML)
  • Available in three models - Amida
    1200, 1600 and 4200

The Picopeta Simputer

Picopeta's Simputer is glo­bally marketed under the brand name of Amida
Sim­puter. It comes with a Linux-based operating system and has two USB ports,
which ensure that it can work well with an array of devices like printers and
digital cameras. This product is available in three models - Amida 1200, 1600
and 4200.

Picopeta's Simputer-based solutions provide their custo­mers the advantage
of power, compactness and mobility, simple-to-use icon-based interfaces and
integrated SmartCard reader. The Sim­puter 
includes a touch screen interface that does away with input devices like
a mouse or keyboard, and the develop­ment of a standardized inter­face
language called Informa­tion Markup Language (IML).

Connecting people

The Simputer works as a shared device that permits truly simple and natural
user interfaces based on sight, touch and audio, through a browser for the IML.
This has been created to provide a uniform experience to users and to allow
rapid develop­ment of solutions on any platform.

An important feature of the Simputer is the SmartCard Reader/Writer. The
SmartCard is emerging as a credible delivery vehicle for financial transactions
on the Internet and has become an important tool for electronic commerce. The
incorporation of a Smart­Card Reader/Writer in the Simputer increases the func­tionality
of the mobile device for deployment of a richer set of value-added services,
including services such as home and micro-banking through personal ATMs, home
shopping, etc.

The SmartCard Interface

enables a diverse range of applications that require security. Electronic
comme­rce, on-line banking and multi-purpose citizen-cards will all require
SmartCards in the near future.

A local community such as the village panchayat, the village school, a kiosk,
a village postman, or even a shopkeeper should be able to loan the device to
individuals for some length of time and then pass it on to others in the

Simputer, through its Smart Card feature also allows personal informa­tion
management at the indivi­dual level for an unlimited number of users. It can
also be personalized for individual use on a changing basis.

The SmartCard is the basic method by which this device can be personalized. A
user's individual profile can be stored on a SmartCard, which he can carry
around with him. Once inserted into the SmartCard Interface, the Simputer will
read the profile from the SmartCard and also update changes if any, during the
current transaction cycle.

Applications in diverse sectors such as micro ban­king, large data
collection, agricultural information and school laboratory are now being made
possible at an affordable price (Rs 8,000 to Rs 14,000).

Customer adoption

In spite of its user-friendly features, the Simputer was not adopted as well
as it should have been by custo­mers. In fact, four years after the launch, the
adoption at the customer level began showing an increment in the last year or

Indicating the reasons for

the slow adoption, Vinay Deshpande, Chairman and CEO, Encore Software said,
“First of all, the market believed that the Simputer was just another PDA.
What was not recognized was that the Simputer was a more powerful hand-held
device although it felt much like a PDA. In addition, customers who were given
the sample products indicated that they required at least 10 to 12 additional
features, which took time to get incorporated into the device.”

Adoption of technologies like the Simputer takes time because they begin as
pilot projects initially and only then get into large-scale customer adoption,
said Deshpande.

Future prospects

As it stands now, the Sim­puter is not yet available at any retail outlet
and has to be obtained by placing an order with the makers themselves. However,
Deshpande indica­ted that Encore has begun talks with the channel community to
look for a viable channel model for distribution of its Simputer.

“The Simputer has begun to find application in vehicle diagnostics also.
Mahindra Scorpio is one example for this,” said Deshpande, while indicating
that the Simputer is also being used by migrant African laborers in the UK to
transfer money back home and also for micro credit facilities in Mysore.

Subbalakshmi Bm

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