FARM WORKERS in Bolare, a village located southwest of Bangalore, India, try out a literacy tutorial program on the Simputer. Because the device can convert text to speech, it can help teach villagers how to read the local language, Kannada. Image: Courtesy of ENCORE SOFTWARE LTD
It doesn't look like much. A drab, gray piece of plastic, about five inches long and three inches wide. A black-and-white screen, three inches by two inches, showing a few simple snippets of text. And yet this nondescript little computer may hold the key to bringing information technology to Third World countries.
The device is known as the Simputer. I recently got a chance to evaluate one of the preproduction models that have been put together by the Simputer Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Bangalore, India. This year Encore Software, a Bangalore company that licensed the technology from the trust (not to be confused with the California software company of the same name), plans to sell thousands of the handheld devices, capping an effort that began in 1998.
This article was originally published with the title Computers for the Third World.