Simputer: Not so simple anymore

DQW Bureau
New Update


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