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On the eve of Adam's launch...

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...Notion Ink is confident that its tablet computer will score over competition..

ImagiNotion at play.
ImagiNotion at play.

Is it a phone? A radio? A computer? Is it a camera? Well, it can be any or all of them.

K. Venugopal

I am slated to meet Rohan Shravan, founder and CEO of Notion Ink, the exciting young technology firm in Bangalore that is about to unveil its first product, a tablet computer named Adam that many in the market have been speculating will rival Apple Computer's iconic product, the iPad.

I am ushered into a spartan visitor's room that apparently doubles as a mini conference room. It is almost noon but the office, situated on one of Bangalore's busy information technology corridors, is unusually empty. Many of the staff had been working till four that morning, gone home to catch up with some sleep and are only now heading back to work.

Getting up to the office for visitors is not easy. The security staff at the gate pointed me to the fourth building at the rear of the office complex that houses firms such as IBM, but once you reach it there is not a board to announce the firm. I am soon to find out why.

A lanky, boyish looking, casually dressed man walks into the room and mumbles an introduction that roughly sounds like the name of the person I was due to meet. He is, as I learn later, just 25 years old. He leads a company that has 90 staff, all under 25 years. With Shravan and Notion Ink, you must expect to be surprised.

“Why is there no name board anywhere?” I ask him. “It is deliberate,” he says. “In our previous office we had a board and every day we had numerous people coming up and asking to see what we were doing. We simply do not have time to tell them.” But tell the world through the company Web site and his own personal blog Shravan has been doing consistently over the past several months, titillating gadget freaks with the very many novel features of the tablet computer that is expected to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 6, 2011. (The product prototype was unveiled at the previous edition of the show.)

Many of the potential features of the product have been revealed on the blog, through video or still shots, and comments have fired back quickly.  Those may not have changed the designs on the drawing board, but the feedback was used to confirm that the company was indeed on the right track, says Shravan.

The company logo, however, was contributed by eager participants on a Web-based contest that the company held. It came at no cost. Indeed, many more inputs, some much more valuable than the logo, came virtually free. Shravan did a deal with three engineering colleges, promising select students of the third and fourth year a job with the company if they devoted their time at college working intensively at projects he would give them. That ploy gave him product development work at low cost; the students got their promised job at the end of the term. Twenty of them are already on the rolls, he informs me. I probe him on how and why he has taken on this gamble. “I have nothing to lose,” he says. “We spent only a few lakhs in the first few months” (the company has been functional only a year-and-a-half even though the idea has been three years in the making), he says, making light of the challenge.

Shravan's life script is just as intriguing. “Mine was a disturbed childhood” he says, matter of factly. Born in Mumbai, brought up in New Delhi, schooled in many other cities in the country, studying turbine engineering when his heart was on computers, he has seen great variety. Today his assets are bright young minds, some 90 of them. He is flooding the Patent office with applications, and claims that by 2012, he will be the third largest patent holder in this country after the pharma majors, Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy's.

His challenge is to build a product that will be different from what is available now. He thinks he has one. It is not going to be like the iPad, he says, because it will not need to be used in conjunction with iTunes and another computer. It has its own USB port to input software and movies, an HDMI output that can play a movie or a power point presentation on a television screen.

Who are your customers? I ask him. They are going to be business customers, and largely in the developed world, he says. They can use all their business tools on this. All we provide is a kernel, you can run any operating system whether it is Android, or Linux or Windows mobile. The product's estimated price has increased since last year, when it was pegged at $325. It will now be priced between $399 and $499 depending on the features, and it will be priced the same all over the world. What about India, I ask. The base price will be the same, but the import duty will be on top of that, for the units will be manufactured in Taiwan.

At this point he does not know what rate of duty will be applied eventually. So far the prototypes he has imported have had five different rates applied depending on what they were perceived to be. Was it a phone? (yes, it has a sim card) Was it a radio? Was it a computer? Was it a camera? Well, it can be any or all of them. The final determination he expects later this month when he provides the authorities with a full list of features which he claims includes a couple he has not publicly revealed yet.

He brings for me one of the prototypes with a Customs seal on the back. With Android software loaded, it looks like one of the recently released tablet computers in the market. It does not have the right user interface, he says apologetically, and I infer that he would like me to believe that the real product will be significantly better. We need to wait a month for it.

Striking features

The Adam comes with a memory expandable to 128 GB (you could possibly fit your entire movie library in it). A 3-megapixel swivel camera, fingerprint- and scratch-resistant touch-screen, a digital compass, GPS facility. Bluetooth and 3G HSPA connectivity are part of the package, too.

The product comes equipped with HDMI Video output, USB and mini-USB ports for manual data transfer, while supporting Adobe AIR and Flash.

kvenu@thehindu.co.in

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 13, 2010)
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