When is the Right Time to Make a Custom Android Device (and What to Do Before Then)?

The process of making any custom electronics product with the sophistication of an Android tablet or smartphone, and even less sophisticated electronics, takes a multi-discipline expert understanding of technical engineering.  For example there must be a hardware architect with knowledge of the hardware at the component level, someone with deep insight into the parameters around firmware and OS (assuming there’s an existing firmware (SDK) in place as is the case with Android platform products) to know what customizations are possible and the amount of work required to implement those customizations, and an experienced mechanical engineer/designer that knows which components go where to ensure RF quality, ease of use, avoid overheating, and countless other considerations that are learned through experience.

Because of the amount of variables and level of technical expertise required to plan out any custom Android product often times the complications from even small changes are overlooked by the untrained eye.  For example a feature that Android 5.1 offers, like the ability to grant full admin authority (fully rooted), doesn’t mean that the newer Android 8.1 will also offer this. When Hatch’s customer goes ahead with making an APP for 8.1 that requires root authority and finds out it’s not available they must go back to programming changes into their APP code.  The same thing can be said for a hardware change like adding extra speakers to a device. It seems like a simple change, but adding speakers requires adding components to support the additional power consumption and modifying the firmware as well to ensure the surge in power consumption is handled properly by the system. Otherwise (as we’ve found) there’s risk of a system failure, like the device shutting off.  Since the failures can come at any time and, by definition, are triggered for unknown reasons in all practicality only extensive user testing will reveal unseen bugs. User testing is one of the most important parts of the development process.

Meticulous oversight and collaboration of multiple experts to ensure the most efficient and successful development of a custom Android smartphone or tablet project requires a serious commitment of both time and money by the client.  Typically a project lasts 4-12 months before client receives mass production products and the total product cost (based on a 10k unit order) ranges from $750k to $millions (USD). To get an idea about payment structure check out the ‘Fair Pricing Structure‘ page on our website.  Amount of customization is the biggest driver of time.  The cost drivers are device specs, customization requirements, and quantity.  Through active collaboration of a team of experts Hatch maximizes proven development decisions, a byproduct of experience, reducing costly delays which are typical with custom Android or electronic hardware development.  Less customizations means less complications, helping to keep both cost and time requirement lower.

When Hatch evaluates customers we aim to partner with companies that possess a vision to create a custom product that serves a specific high value use case.  The potential customer must have funding and product demand (ie. minimum order quantity, normally 10k) before coming to Hatch. Sometimes the direct customer will use the products in their own business, otherwise the demand comes from customers of Hatch’s client, either end users or institutional/enterprise customers.  Even if a potential client can’t commit to 10k pcs, but there’s a solid team in place with a strong business plan Hatch may still support the partnership opportunity by accepting a lower than normal quantity because we believe in the vision and team. Based on the total number of inquiries Hatch gets we respond to about 33%.  Of the 33% we send an initial response to about 10% of those are projects that fit into our business model. This means the potential client has a clear vision, is solving a unique problem, has sufficient funding and volume demand, and has a team that inspires confidence.

For companies who aren’t ready to make a volume commitment, don’t have the cash required to realize a project, only need a prototype, are still testing their technology, or whatever other reason prevents them from directly ordering product there are other options for you!  Often we get asked by these kinds of companies ‘Can you refer another company who can help us?’. The answer is NO! Not because we don’t want to, but because you simply don’t understand what it takes to make a custom product and the minimum investment needed to sustain the work it takes to make your product.  In light of this I’ll share ways you can move forward using more easy to attain solutions. Look for a consumer Android Tablet or Phone, buy whatever retail Android phone or tablet best matches your need from any local retailer, and put your app on that product. Of course it won’t have all the bells and whistles of a custom device.  It won’t serve your purpose as well either, but it’s a proof of concept. Make the most with what you can do easiest given your limited budget. Another approach is to buy Android demo boards. Many different options are available online which are open source and offer many interfaces meaning there’s certainly an option available which could serve your purpose.  A development board won’t look pretty, but it will be functional. If you get to the point where you have a half baked product that somewhat demonstrates your vision then you need to leverage that to get financial support and customer demand to keep moving forward.

Hopefully this article helps provide a high level perspective into what goes into making a custom Android device (phone or tablet or mutant variation).  Now you should be able to decide if you’re ready to work with Hatch or need to spend more time plugging away in the garage. Also note that some companies have all the right justifications, but don’t have the technical expertise in hardware or dealing with China or something else.  For those companies we offer an engineering assessment for $10k to do initial product management which entails understanding the exact use case of the device in order to define key hardware specs, firmware/OS requirements, and casing requirements. If you decide to move forward with an order then half of that $10k will go towards the balance payment when your products ship.

I’m excited to meet with more special entrepreneurs and help turn your amazing work into reality.