One of the key features of Android is that it is open-source. The source code of the operating system is publicly available for free. This means that anyone can download it, make their version of Android, and flash it onto a compatible device. The flexibility offered has allowed organizations to develop custom firmware (or custom ROM) for custom Android devices. This blog introduces the concept of custom Android devices, their associated benefits, real-world applications, and factors to consider before custom devices.
What are Custom Android devices?
Custom Android devices are smartphones and tablets that the manufacturers or third-party developers have created, modified and customized. These customizations can take many forms, including adding new features, changing the user interface for a specific use case or industry.
Custom Android devices, also referred to as purpose-built devices, are usually meant for enterprise use cases that are developed in partnership with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or chipset vendors. Purpose-built devices are great for enterprises with unique requirements that cannot be met by an off-the-shelf mobile device.
Android manufacturers offer these types of devices, such as mobile devices with built-in barcode scanners for inventory management purposes or Android-based point of sales (POS) systems.
Reasons for Customizing Android Devices
There are several benefits to using custom Android devices, including –
Enterprises can optimize custom Android devices to improve speed and performance. Optimization can comprise modifying the device’s kernel–a central component of the OS that provides essential services to other parts of the OS–or installing custom ROMs that are optimized for performance.
Consumer smartphones and tablets are often filled with bloatware–unwanted apps pre-installed on the mobile device. Bloatware isn’t necessary for devices with a single purpose. It takes up storage space, reduces battery life, and exposes devices to security risks. Purpose-built Android devices come embedded with only the necessary systems apps needed to run an enterprise app. Organizations get to choose exactly which apps should be loaded in the firmware, maximizing performance.
Custom devices are less costly than off-the-shelf Android devices. Companies can optimize costs by avoiding hardware that isn’t necessary for the required business use case. For example, retailers can invest in less expensive purpose-built devices for running a single app in their stores. In addition, custom devices can be more reliable. Non-rugged devices used in a demanding environment are more likely to fail, even in protective cases.
More software and hardware control
Purpose-built devices typically allow more OS and hardware personalization than consumer devices. Personalization allows devices to be configured in the optimal settings to meet a company’s unique needs, which means workers can perform productively and meet customer expectations.
Custom Android devices can be configured to improve security. This can include adding encryption to protect sensitive data or installing custom ROMs that have been optimized for security.
Custom Android devices can be branded with a company’s logo, colors, and other branding elements. This can be useful for companies that want to promote their brand and provide a consistent look and feel across all of their devices.
Real-world Applications of Custom Android Devices
Android is an open-source software stack, which means manufacturers can build custom Android devices running Google Mobile Services (GMS). GMS is a collection of Google applications and APIs that support functionality across devices. These allow companies to build enterprise-compatible apps for smartphones and tablets that run on the Android OS. The upside of Android OS is familiarity, so users are comfortable using them for work purposes.
- Healthcare: Custom Android devices are used in the healthcare industry to provide mobile medical devices, patient monitoring systems, and telemedicine platforms. For example, smartphones and tablets with custom Android operating systems can enable healthcare providers to use electronic medical records (EMR) apps that give access to a patient’s vital signs, clinical documents, and medical imaging.
- Retail: Custom Android devices can be used in retail industries to provide point-of-sale (POS) systems, inventory management systems, and customer management systems. The devices can be customized to meet the specific needs of the industry, such as integrating with payment gateways or loyalty programs.
- Industrial manufacturing: Rugged handheld devices are used for inspection, quality inventory control, machinery maintenance, and order tracking. Manufacturers can choose to include specialized sensors, additional ports, or even a different form factor. For example, a custom Android device for use in a factory might include additional sensors for real-time monitoring of machines, while a custom Android device for use in retail might include a built-in barcode scanner.
Factors to Consider Before Purchasing Custom Android Devices
If organizations want a great deal of control over the integrations, security, features, or applications they need to employ at work, then buying custom Android devices as per specific needs is reasonable. However, the total budget or cost per device is important in determining whether to buy custom mobile devices.
Industry regulations also determine the requirements of devices. As with most things in highly regulated industries like healthcare or finance, it comes down to data safety. Regulations can impact the suitability of devices.
Another factor to look at is software and hardware control. When making a custom Android smartphone or tablet, less is more. The devices should come preloaded with apps into the firmware needed to run necessary business apps. Limiting embedded apps maximizes performance and minimizes security risks. On the hardware front, each device with the same software can come in a different hardware spec.
For example, one rugged tablet meant for use in the oil & gas industry needs to be dustproof, shockproof, and shatterproof. The device also needs to withstand extreme temperatures. Another device needs to be a semi-rugged smartphone that should include expandable memory so that field workers can expand storage capacity to accommodate documents, videos, and field service apps.
Why Manage Custom Android Devices Using MDM
Custom Android devices require device management much like mass-produced, stock Android devices do. In fact, they may need more attention. While they offer organizations more control over the mobile environment, they need dedicated management and maintenance must meet performance and security needs.
With Android MDM, companies can manage devices with custom hardware configuration remotely, including troubleshooting and updates. Additionally, companies are likely to use a mix of standard and custom apps on these devices. Using custom apps means finding an alternative to Google Play Store. Most MDM solutions offer a category dedicated to managing custom apps in a centralized manner, including distributing and removing apps remotely.
Organizations choose to customize devices for various reasons. Some prioritize safety while others prioritize a more user-friendly interface. MDM provides additional security measures, including password enforcement, data encryption, and remote wipe capabilities.
A custom Android device is built with specific use cases in mind. To achieve the intended goals, organizations can develop custom versions of Android OS to provide better support for hardware, superior battery life and performance, less bloatware, and enhanced security features. Obtaining custom Android devices is a great option for companies that are in a position to do so since there is a significant upfront cost of software and hardware development. But in the long run, it can save money by allowing companies to create a deployment tailored to their needs.