Imagine a mobile computing device that puts word processing, Web browsing, and videoconferencing in your hands for less than what you’d spend on one family dinner at Perkins. Think that might have an impact on the market?

If the Indian government has its way, we’ll find out next year. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sabil just unveiled a prototype touchscreen tablet that could market for 1500 rupees — $35 — or less. The minister says Indian tech students and professors designed it. They cut cost by using open-source software and, of course, Linux. The device runs on a memory card instead of a hard drive (remember the advantages of solid state). For a few rupees more, you can add a solar panle, boosting appeal for remote users (and for me when I’m camping!).

Steve Jobs might not need to start quivering yet: this same ministry made a splash last year with announcement of a $10 laptop that has yet to materialize. But Minister Sibal says this new gadget is ready for production: “We have reached a (developmental) stage that today, the motherboard, its chip, the processing, connectivity, all of them cumulatively cost around $35, including memory, display, everything.”

India envisions this tablet primarily as an educatinoal tool. If this thing works, we could equip an entire classroom of kids with Web-capable devices for the cost of one good laptop. Textbooks and graphing calculators cost more than this. I’d feel a lot more comfortable requiring students to haul around a $35 piece of equipment than an electronic device so expensive the school has to require parents to buy insurance.

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