7 Myths About Custom Android Devices: Commercial vs. Purpose-Built Android

As you define the requirements for a commercial, single-use (COSU) Android deployment, it can be challenging to select the right hardware. There’s no shortage of options, including the choice to build or buy your devices – or, choosing between commercial vs. custom Android hardware. 

Building vs. Buying Android Devices

Commercial devices is a term used to refer to any consumer-grade Android deployed to an enterprise use case, including hardware locked to Android kiosk mode. These may also be referred to as off-the-shelf devices.

Custom Android devices are purpose-built devices for enterprise use cases that are typically developed in partnership with chipset vendors,  Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) or Original Design Manufacturers (ODM). These may also be referred to as purpose-built devices.

Organizations often believe that custom Android is a product roadmap risk, since it can be hard to control cost, quality, and outcomes when you’re working with an unknown OEM. In reality, custom Android devices may be a better option than you believe. The best Android hardware for your use case could be custom or commercial.

In This Blog

In this blog, you’ll learn that myths about Android custom devices aren’t always true for single-purpose use cases and how to tell which matter to your product roadmap. 

Building vs. Buying Android Devices

Myth #1. Custom Android are Costlier

Myth #2. Custom Android Manufacturing is Lengthy

Myth #3. Support and Updates are Complex for Custom Android

Myth #4. Custom Devices are Less Secure

Myth #5. Custom Android is for Unique Form Factors

Myth #6. Custom Android is Harder to Deploy

Myth #7. Custom Android is Risky

Are Android Custom Devices Right For You?

How to Select the Right Single-Purpose Android Hardware

Myth #1. Custom Android are Costlier

Customers often mistakenly believe that custom Android is always costlier than commercial, consumer-grade products. In reality, the cost of Android can vary significantly for both purpose-built and off-the-shelf devices.

Custom Android can allow you to optimize features and performance for your budget to ensure you’re not paying for any unused hardware features or processing power. You could save money on common features that simply don’t make sense in your use case – such as an unneeded camera or microphone. 

Custom Android can allow you to maximize your budget. Depending on many different factors, purpose-built Android hardware can be 25% cheaper than consumer-grade devices. 

Myth #2. Custom Android Manufacturing is Lengthy 

Another common misconception about purpose-built Android is that custom manufacturing is a lengthy process. In reality, you can streamline the entire process – from validation to design and manufacturing.

The biggest threat to a speedy deployment is devices that aren’t validated for your specific Android applications and use case requirements, which can occur with both commercial and custom devices. 

To learn more about Esper’s approach to validating Android devices in our lab, we recommend our Android SBC Reviews Whitepaper.

By partnering with Esper and MediaTek, you can develop a complete proof-of-concept for custom Android apps and devices in a matter of weeks, allowing you to significantly streamline your validation and manufacturing phases. Learn more.

Myth #3. Support and Updates are Complex for Custom Android

Purchasing commercial, off-the-shelf devices does not guarantee long-term support or ease of OS updates. In fact, purchasing either custom or commercial hardware that’s not validated can yield mixed results for long-term support requirements. 

OEMs offer varying levels of post-sales support to device customers, which means you’re not guaranteed access to regular updates for 1-3 years.

Related reading: What are the Benefits of a Custom Android OS?

Support and updates are a crucial consideration for the hardware selection phase. It’s crucial to evaluate device update availability, how long updates will be available, and how difficult it is to apply these updates remotely or using on-site resources. Devices with limited long-term support options can be a security risk under any circumstances, and hardware that’s difficult to update can lead to mounting long-term support costs.

One of the most effective ways to simplify your long-term support requirements is to opt for either commercial or purpose-built devices with a custom version of the Android operating system (OS). Custom Android OS can provide greater control over the device throughout the lifecycle, including remote over-the-air updates (OTA updates). 

Learn more in
The Evolution of Android OTA: A/B Updates or explore devices with Esper Enhanced Android custom OS

Myth #4. Custom Devices are Less Secure

Let’s be clear – there is no such thing as a hack-proof Android device. But, control and configurability both play an enormous role in the security of single-purpose Android devices. Custom devices can be more secure than commercial options since you can design for greater control over the entire device lifecycle by optimizing the hardware, OS, and cloud tools used to deploy and manage Android.

Off-the-shelf Android can be a security risk if you’re unable to effectively lock it to your use case or remotely manage total device health in real-time. The wrong combination of device and cloud tools can leave device settings and features exposed to remote end users. When poor control over single-purpose Android is combined with poor visibility, it’s a recipe for security incidents.

In comparison, custom Android can offer a number of security and compliance advantages. You can integrate ISO or PCI requirements into the design phase. You can eliminate unnecessary features and ports to mitigate the potential surface area for an Android attack. Cloud tools and OS customization can further improve your ability to detect, manage, and remediate security risks in real-time — including greater protection against malicious Android firmware attacks that are hard to detect and even harder to mitigate on commercial-grade OS. 

For more information on Android firmware attacks, check out Esper’s 2020 Recap podcast. 

Myth #5. Custom Android is for Unique Form Factors

Android is the future of smart devices for healthcare and fitness. Custom Android is the leading option for purpose-built fitness bikes, remote healthcare monitoring systems, and countless other use cases. But, unique form factors aren’t the only reason to consider a custom Android device.

Custom Android comes in countless different form factors, including:

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Kiosks
  • Fitness Equipment
  • Signage
  • Healthcare Devices
  • Wearables
  • And much more

And, just because your preferred form factor is available off-the-shelf doesn’t mean that commercial devices are a better option. Purpose-built hardware can offer superior performance and cost control in many use cases, even if you need a traditional form factor such as smartphone or tablet. 

Myth #6. Custom Devices Are Harder to Deploy

Provisioning and deployment can be a challenge with any mobile device. But, custom devices aren’t necessarily harder to deploy than commercial options. Validating performance can prevent provisioning nightmares since there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all device or use case. 

Android device customization should allow you to fully test your proof-of-concept performance on sample boards before proceeding to the design or manufacturing phase. 

Adding a custom OS to purpose-built Android can significantly streamline your provisioning and deployment process by months or weeks, especially if you’re able to validate your proof-of-concept in advance. With Esper Enhanced Android, you can ship the device directly from the OEM to the point of use for painless, zero-click provisioning on-site from the moment a device connects to WiFi or Ethernet. This eliminates the time, cost, and headache of provisioning devices at headquarters before shipping devices to the final point of use. 

Myth #7. Custom Android is Risky

Purchasing the wrong device for your requirements is an enormous risk to your product roadmap. Hardware selection is critically-important and risks can occur if you choose a commercial or custom device that isn’t validated for compatibility. 

Custom Android isn’t necessarily a risk. Choosing validated, enhanced, or purpose-built hardware is the best way to protect your product roadmap from issues related to performance, security, visibility, or control. 

Are Android Custom Devices Right For You?

It depends. Custom Android may be right or you could be better served by validated or enhanced commercial devices. The answer varies depending on your roadmap, industry, budget, timeline, and other factors. 

GMS vs. Non-GMS Devices

Custom vs. commercial Android can vary depending on whether you need a Google Mobile Services (GMS) or Non-GMS device. The most significant difference is that GMS devices include a package of applications and services from Google, including Chrome, Search, YouTube and more.  OEMs must pursue a very specific process to produce GMS-certified devices which can add to the total device cost. 

To learn more, we recommend GMS vs. Non GMS for Android Devices.

There are pros and cons to GMS vs. Non-GMS devices which vary significantly according to your use case and requirements. GMS devices are the standard for consumer-grade Android, but they’re not necessarily the best or most cost-effective choice for every enterprise use case. 

Esper is the industry’s leading source of custom and commercial device support for both GMS and Non-GMS Android devices. You can learn more about Esper’s support for Android OS versions 4.4+ in our Requirements docs

Budget

Your total budget and budget per device are both important considerations in determining whether to build or buy Android devices. It’s essential to ensure you’re converting budget to value by optimizing performance and features for cost. 

Timeline

Your timeline for deployment can also shape whether you’re best positioned to build or buy. But, custom device delivery doesn’t need to take years. You can validate a complete proof-of-concept in weeks by partnering with Esper and MediaTek. 

Industry

The industry you work in can shape your requirements, especially if you’re subject to regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS or ISO 13485. Industry can also impact your need for ruggedized devices that are shatter-proof, water-proof, and fit for other tough workplace conditions. Still, there are both commercial and custom options available for even the most highly-regulated industries or ruggedized use cases. 

Use case

A well-defined use case is among the most important considerations for commercial vs. custom Android. The target users, usage volume, environment, applications, purpose, and mission-critical components of your use case can help you select the right validated or purpose-built hardware. And, if you’re still working to define your use case, partnering with experts can help you fully understand your requirements. 

Requirements

Vague requirements can be a risk in any product roadmap, including single-purpose Android. This can be especially true if you’re planning to customize your hardware with an unknown vendor. Expert assistance really matters in the requirements-gathering phase to ensure you’re fully prepared to optimize device features, processing, storage, and other variables in your hardware search. 

How to Select the Right Single-Purpose Android Hardware

If you think that a custom device could be right for you, schedule a complimentary, one-hour consultation with Esper to learn about our validated, enhanced, and custom device options for your use case.

We are Android experts who can help you make the right decision for your unique situation to streamline your single-purpose deployment. Click here to request a free consultation. 

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