As Apple fends off a feisty claimant to its iPad trademark in China, Chinese tech manufacturers are doing battle in Thailand. Several are competing to supply as many as 860,000 cut-price tablets to Thai schoolchildren under a government-to-government programme. None will getting iPads, not at less than $100 a pop. Still, the Thai government wants to get bang for its buck by fielding bids from the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo. China’s government is assisting with procurement, though the 1.9 billion baht ($62 million) budget is coming from Thailand. The winning tablet must feature a seven-inch touch screen, 512 RAM, 8GB of memory and built-in 3G. The programme stems from a campaign pledge last year by prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to provide ‘One Tablet Per Child’ as a way to revolutionise grade-school learning. The government has promised to start delivering the first batch to schools in March.
So who is going to supply the devices? The Bangkok Post reported Wednesday that an obscure OEM manufacturer may have the edge. Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development has undercut its larger rivals with its Android 3.2-based Scopad SP0712, which has a range of features and the requisite seven-inch screen. The company’s website says that it began production of the model last August and can produce 100,000 a month. The Thai government is poised to snap up 750,000 Scopads at a unit cost of just $81. This still leaves the government short of its original target of 860,000 tablets, so more orders could follow. It appears that none of the other Chinese manufacturers could supply a similar cut-price model with sufficient features. Given their economies of scale, this is somewhat surprising, though Shenzhen Scope may have simply been more willing to slash its margins in order to land a big order. Huawei’s Thai management said last week that the procurement bid specs would mean a 50 percent discount to the local retail on its MediaPad tablet.
While you hear plenty about Asian students steamrolling their Western counterparts in standardised tests, Thailand is nearer the bottom of the tables. Whether or not handing out free tablets to public schools will reverse this dismal trend is debatable. Better teachers and textbooks might be a smarter investment. But it’s certainly a boon for cut-price Chinese manufacturers.