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  • Vijay Chandru

A deep technology breakthrough that made India proud (and could have done so much more)

“Envisioned as a low-cost alternative to handheld computers in India, the Simputer made a splash in the early 2000s. It was devised in order to bridge the digital divide … it remains an important homegrown development in computer manufacture. It was the brainchild of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science – Vijay Chandru, Ramesh Hariharan, Swami Manohar and V Vinay”

The Perceptual Computing Lab (PerCoLat) in the CSA Department of IISc was the epi-centre of a phenomenal creative effort driven by its four faculty convenors. Some twenty years after its conception, the Simputer® still evokes pride in the translational success in computing from Indian academia.

In naming the Simputer as the most significant innovation in computer technology in 2001, Bruce Sterling wrote in the NY Times that “This is computing as it would have looked if Gandhi had invented it, then used Steve Jobs for his ad campaign. India has already largely succeeded in localizing cinema, satellite communications, cable television and radio. The Simputer is meant to do the same for the Internet.”

The novelties in design, functionalities, software tools, and developer ecosystem of the Simputer are too numerous to list here but here are some highlights:

o First commercial handheld computer to run the linux kernel

o First Commercial handheld with an Open Hardware license

o Smart card enabled for secure transactions and for personalization

o First commercial handheld to have a full motion sensor – portrait/landscape, games (predates Apple)

o IMLi (Information Markup Language interface) for touchscreen enabled multi-lingual interactions

o Dhvani: Text to speech interface in multiple Indian languages, first in a handheld device

o Alchemy, the first complete App development environment for a mobile (predates Android, IOS)

o The Amida Simputer was e-commerce enabled: online ordering and payment, home-delivery and support.

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