Are Custom Mobile Devices Right for You?

One of the major questions you’ll need to answer as you plan a mobile devices strategy for your business is this: Should you leverage custom mobile hardware, or stick with generic devices?

Custom hardware offers some key benefits, like greater control and easier support. But it also has its drawbacks, and it’s not the right fit for every situation.

Keep reading for a primer on how custom hardware works in the mobile world, and when it does and doesn’t make sense to use it.

What Is Custom Mobile Hardware?

Custom mobile hardware, or custom mobile devices, is hardware that is manufactured to your specific specifications. It’s the opposite of off-the-shelf devices that hardware vendors manufacture for the mass market.

You can customize multiple layers of a mobile device. You could choose a custom chipset, for example, if you need the core hardware to do something that is not supported by mass-market devices. You could customize the form factor in order to build a device that meets certain size or shape requirements. You could add custom sensors that are capable of collecting data like air humidity.

Advantages of Custom Mobile Devices

Businesses turn to customized mobile hardware devices for a variety of reasons:

  • Low-effort hardware acquisition: Custom hardware offers a simpler, faster way to get a device that looks and feels exactly like you want it to without having to develop it yourself from scratch.
  • Cost: You may be able to save money at scale with customized devices by choosing the ones that meet your specific requirements. You might not need certain features that you’d otherwise have to pay for when working with standard hardware. For example, if you don’t need an integrated camera in your device, customization may be a way to avoid paying for one.
  • Performance: For similar reasons, custom devices may perform better by allowing you to avoid unnecessary hardware or software add-ons that will slow down your device.
  • Customized software: Customized hardware can be useful in situations where you need to run software that isn’t compatible with mass-market hardware. For instance, you might want to deploy an app that requires a specific screen resolution or a certain type of sensor.
  • Support: Customized mobile devices can simplify support by making it easier for you to work with a service provider of your choice, rather than being forced into a support arrangement that may come with stock devices that are sold directly by major mobile OEM vendors.

These advantages add up to a mobile strategy that is more flexible, more supportive of your business and, in many cases, less expensive than a conventional approach built upon standard mobile devices.

Disadvantages of Customizing Mobile Devices

On the other hand, there are some potential drawbacks to custom mobile hardware that are important to keep in mind:

  • Custom development: If you opt for non-standard hardware and/or software, you’ll need a way to develop software that works with your platform. This can be difficult if you acquire the customized hardware yourself, without working with a partner that can also address your development needs for the custom platform.
  • Custom management: Likewise, managing custom hardware on your own may be difficult unless you have a team that is familiar with the unique specifications and requirements of your devices.
  • Expensive in low volumes: Customized hardware delivers the greatest savings when done at scale. If you only need a handful of mobile devices, it may cost more than it’s worth.
  • Resale may be difficult: It can be harder to resell customized devices after you no longer need them.

Is Customized Hardware Right for You?

Generally speaking, customized mobile hardware makes most sense for businesses that meet the following criteria:

  • Control is a priority: If you need fine-grained control over the hardware and software in your business’s mobile devices, customized hardware is an ideal solution.
  • You need many devices: If you’re purchasing hundreds of devices, customization starts to make sense from a cost perspective. It makes really good sense if you are purchasing thousands.
  • You plan long-term deployment: Given that customized devices can be difficult to resell, they are best in cases where they will be deployed for years, up to the end of their useful lifetimes.

Getting the Most from Custom Mobile Hardware

A final point: as noted above, managing custom hardware (and the software that runs on it) can be difficult. To make custom mobile devices work for you, make sure you think about your strategy holistically. Don’t just acquire the devices. Think about how you’ll deploy the software you need on them, how you will manage the devices over the long term, and how you’ll acquire additional devices as your business grows.