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Custom Android Hardware. Input on sourcing our device?

I'm looking for ideas on sourcing tablets for a custom app/hardware platform. I need a mostly stock platform, and the ability to install a custom Android build. We are building a device to put on-premise with customers. The tablet hardware will be stock to start, who do you approach to find a vendor to source devices from? Does anyone have any hidden "got-ya's" that show-up when working with Android devices? We will have a custom app that captures information and uploads it to a server. We want to strip the "fluff" from Android to save resources on the device. The other item I'm looking for is the ability to have the vendor "pre-load" an image onto the tablet. Does anyone have any hands on experience with this?

16 Replies

David Pariseau
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David Pariseau Entrepreneur
CTO and CoFounder at Particles Plus

Are there specific custom hardware requirements for this device or is it purely custom software sitting on an off-the-shelf tablet (or the equivalent)?

Eric Fulkert
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Eric Fulkert Entrepreneur
CEO at Campus Suite CMS
It's an off the shelf tablet to start for the pilot. I need audio in/out, support for Bluetooth LE, and Android 5. Does that help
David Pariseau
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David Pariseau Entrepreneur
CTO and CoFounder at Particles Plus

What kinds of volumes are you looking for? If you're looking for small volumes then I think you're at the mercy of what you can find on-the-shelf. If you're looking for larger volumes then you can interest manufacturers, perhaps even into providing the changes or build you're looking for.

Shailesh Bhat
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Shailesh Bhat Entrepreneur
Product & Business Management, Entrepreneur
Hi Eric,

We work with android tablets (sourced from CN).

I am curious, what benefit are you seeking in removing the android 'fluff'. Are you doing it for branding reasons, functionality reasons or performance reasons (in other words, will your custom app be resource heavy, that removing fluff will make a difference?).

On custom hardware, David Pariseau is absolutely right; you should look for off-the-shelf devices. In our case, we wanted the device to have an OTG port and a separate charging port (because the application would be in use for >12hrs continuously), and we managed to find such hardware without having to get it custom built (our volumes did not justify a custom hardware build).

As a starting point, you should consider looking for hardware suppliers on alibaba.com if it makes sense for you to source it from CN (but be careful in your dealings there, I have heard of folks being cheated too).

Good Luck.

David Pariseau
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David Pariseau Entrepreneur
CTO and CoFounder at Particles Plus

Good recommendations Shailesh. Alibaba is a good source, but it really depends on volumes. If your only looking at hundreds of units then the considerations are much different than if you're looking for thousands or even larger volumes. It's a tradeoff between the cost benefits ofvolume purchasing vs. the support you require. If you're looking for small volumes forget about trying to engage a large player (they won't be interested in supporting) you, if the volumes are small but the changes you require significant then look for a smaller playerperhaps of custom or specialty products. Your unit cost will go up significantly but your level of support will as well. And, in some applications the unit cost isn't the driving factor (if you're charging the client significantly for your value-add, perhaps the hardware cost is a small part of the overall costs?). As in everything the optimal solution willdepend onyour constraints.

James T Szeto
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James T Szeto Advisor
Principal Consultant at Firehorse Solutions
Try Geekland USA
geekland.co

They sell Android Tablets and Embedded PCBA Android Boards. They also provide OEM/ODM Contract Manufacturing Services.

Here is an example:

Samsung Exynos 4412 Quad-Core Cortex-A9 CPU based Android board


James T Szeto
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James T Szeto Advisor
Principal Consultant at Firehorse Solutions
If you have the ROM source code image from the Android manufacturer, you can strip the unnecessary software, add your custom application binary and build your "Custom ROM" image. Once you have a stable ROM image, you can upload the firmware into the device yourself. A drawback, the manufacturer may not give you a working ROM image. You may have to make it work. Also, you will have to support a custom ROM image source code for each Android device and any future O/S updates.
Eric Fulkert
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Eric Fulkert Entrepreneur
CEO at Campus Suite CMS
How do you approach the manufacturer about getting ROM access? That is very helpful James, thank you for the insight!
James T Szeto
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James T Szeto Advisor
Principal Consultant at Firehorse Solutions
The OEM ROM source code should be available from the board manufacturer. Depending on the manufacturer, there is a developer website that has the ROM source available for free with registration or for a fee. For example, Samsung use to have an open source code website (opensource.samsung.com). Further, if they have a engineering development board, the firmware should be available as part of the kit. Cyanogenmod (cyanogenmod.org) is an opensource aftermarket firmware. My custom firmware for my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1" (GT-P7510) was made from a cyanogenmod firmware image from 2013. In the past, I had stability issues building the firmware. The firmware would crash due to a flaky cellular wireless modem device driver from a third party cell provider. Today, I use my tablet as a multi-channel wireless security monitor for my security cameras. The firmware has been stable since 2013 with the cellular wireless modem device driver removed from the firmware. The firmware is model specific. I do not know anything about the legal issues regarding the use of cyanogenmod firmware for commercial purposes.

Eric Fulkert
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Eric Fulkert Entrepreneur
CEO at Campus Suite CMS
Shailesh, I need to control the resources on the device, and lock the end user out of the Android interface. I need to keep 1 app (mine) running continuously to capture audio. We are not looking to use Google Play, etc, so stripping some of that fluff out I think would help.
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