Tips for Efficient Custom Development of Android Hardware

When conceptualizing a customized Android device, the 3 main areas to focus on are casing (mechanics), electronics, and firmware. Other aspects may include accessories and packaging (depending on business model), to name a few, but this article focuses specifically on the Android device itself.  Key factors within each area affect the development cost and time and unit cost. Understanding what impact different factors have enables a more efficient and beautiful development process. Read on for a summary of key details that matter in custom Android development.


Casing is unique as it incorporates two different disciplines of design; external and internal design.  Usually called Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering, respectively.  If good looking external design isn’t a key aspect for your custom Android hardware then using just a mechanical engineer for both should be fine.  Many mechanical engineers mistake themselves for industrial designers anyway.  Usually external design means less for products that users don’t see or are purely functional in nature.  For the sake of this article we’ll look at the best way to approach a product where design matters.

External design, unlike all the other areas covered here, is exclusively based on perception and emotion.  Intricate details affect branding, perception, and usability.  Hatch highly encourages our customers to work directly with an industrial designer (rather than through Hatch or any other final product supplier) on the case’s external design for the highest quality results.  Hatch will provide the dimensions and other relevant information to support the designer.  To allow a smooth transition to the mechanical designer, the industrial designer should define gap tolerances between the parts of casing, exact colors, and materials.  Usually industrial designers do a good job on the latter two, but making the case fit perfectly can take a lot of time.  Having this requirement from the beginning gives a clear goal, allowing a supplier to test internally before sending to the client.

It’s best to use a mechanical engineer with product specific experience to create the mechanical design.  That’s why Hatch takes control of mechanical design once external design is finished.  Hatch’s mechanical designers have made and modified hundreds of Android devices like tablets, phones, and custom hardware.   Without start to finish product specific experience even a very qualified mechanical engineer won’t foresee product specific design nuances.  Those nuances are related to finished product quality and, through support of supply chain partners, component selection.

Only through seeing multiple products go from start to finish do hidden design optimizations become clear; this is the definition of experience.  For example structures within the mechanical design to strengthen ports or block dust from entering the screen area.  Sometimes ‘the perfect’ design requires an expensive or difficult to source component.  That must be avoided (and there’s no such thing as perfect design).  Collaboration between Hatch’s experienced engineering team and a client’s mechanical designer combines the best of both worlds.  This has a higher cost for the client and maybe overkill, but certainly covers all bases.

Simple takeaways:

  1. Make sure your industrial designer specifies gap tolerances between parts of casing.
  2. Use a mechanical engineer with Android device experience for expertise with quality manufacturing details.
  3. Have the mechanical engineer work with a supply chain partner (like Hatch) to verify that the components suggested by the industrial designer are easy enough to obtain now and into the foreseeable future.


All projects have specific performance requirements that call for different kinds of electronics.  Potential for remorse comes when choosing commodity components like a screen or battery, designing around that, and then finding out that the screen isn’t crisp enough or the battery doesn’t last long enough.  When customizing an Android device choose components individually, by testing them in other devices first.  If there’s a screen you’re considering then get a sample of another device that uses the same screen to see if you like it.  Once you decide on all the key components then make an initial prototype to check that they work well together.

As much as possible stay within the framework of the CPU manufacturer’s reference design.  Clients have asked for a certain Bluetooth chip that’s not included in the reference design.  A change like this requires changing the tried and true reference design.  This change opens the door for new bugs.  It also takes a lot of engineering to make this modification.  Changing the reference design usually comes with a high development cost and higher mass production risk.

Simple takeaways:

  1. Sample key components individually in existing products before deciding on the final list.
  2. Test a prototype that integrates those chosen components before making mold.
  3. Stay within reference design; changing it opens the door to unpredictable problems.


A combination of knowing the result you want from customized Android firmware and clarifying what customizations are possible at the onset of a project sets the stage for smooth development.  The key here is to ask specific questions to the right people so you get reliable answers.  Many Chinese suppliers hire inexperienced sales people based on their young age and English ability.  Young means they’re cheaper and English means they can serve as a conduit of information to the customer.  Oftentimes the answers these people give customers are incomplete or just wrong.

Hatch uses direct connections with IC companies and their licensed engineering companies to directly access management level engineers.  While the engineers don’t usually speak English that’s not a problem and we’re usually able to get real answers about implementing complicated customizations.  Like proper directions before a new journey, knowing whether the customizations you want are feasible avoids going in the wrong direction.

Simple takeaways:

  1. Clear definition of what’s needed before starting the project.
  2. Find the right person to confirm feasibility of customizations saves losing time going in the wrong direction.

Any project that tackles the unknown is prone to risk and surprise.  Applying the takeaways, learned through first hand experience, listed above when approaching the project will maximize reliability while intelligently managing risk.

Taking Hacker Space Mainstream


The Maker movement for do-it-yourself hardware has been growing since 2006, when the first Maker Faire expo was held for hardware hobbyists. It has gathered steam with the growth of open-source hardware and 3D printing. Now it has become a true mainstream movement, and one that could have profound effects on the manufacturing of products.

With crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, it is now possible for entrepreneurs to raise enough money in a campaign to complete hardware prototypes and do an initial run of manufacturing. But which platform is right for you? We’ve looked at some of the emerging platforms to see what kind of variety they offer.

Kickstarter has the advantage of being one of the biggest platforms. Since 2009, the crowdfunding platform has raised more than $1.14 billion for 63,056 successfully funded projects. About 43 percent of campaigns are successful, and many get so much attention that they can move on to receive venture capital funding. One of the primary successes was Oculus VR, which raised $2.4 million in 2012 on Kickstarter for its virtual reality goggles. It went on to be acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. Clearly, Kickstarter gave Oculus VR the visibility it needed, and it can be a very good indicator of the demand for a product.

But much of Kickstarter’s focus is in the U.S. Other platforms are more closely linked to manufacturing. With Highway 1, for instance, entrepreneurs can raise up to $50,000 to fund both a company and its first prototype.

You can work with Highway 1’s engineers for four months during an incubator program. You can get access to electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and 3D printing labs. You can determine your sourcing and the factory you want to produce the product.

You can tour the factories that make the product, explore electronics markets, meet supply vendors and prepare to scale up. HIghway 1 has locations in both the U.S. (San Francisco) and China, and it offers both mentoring and business development support. It takes about 4 percent to 7 percent equity stake in a startup, and it helps set up a supply chain and do the manufacturing.

Highway 1 is a division of PCH International, a global supply chain company. Its aim is to help you take an idea from a napkin sketch to a worldwide retail product.

Haxlr8r is similar to Highway 1 in that it offers an accelerator program for people who like to hack hardware and make things. It offers $25,000 to $50,000 in funding, office space, and a 111-day incubator program in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake.

It provides mentorship and immersion in a startup community with like-minded entrepreneurs in both San Francisco and Shenzhen, China. Each week, participants meet with advisors that offer feedback on concepts and prototypes. The final two weeks of the program will be spent getting pitches together for a final pitch week in Silicon Valley. It helps set up a supply chain and also assists with finding venture capital through the pitching process. It offers a platform for development and does manufacturing setup in China. That includes help with invention, prototyping, sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, supply chain, strategy, marketing, distribution, fundraising, and financing.

Haxlr8r targets two to four-person startups.To date, it has launched 40 companies in the past two years. Many of those companies move on to launch their own Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns.

And there is Quirky. With this platform, you submit your idea through the web site. Quirky takes 100 percent ownership of the product. But if it successfully makes the product and sells it, you get a perpetual royalty from sales.

You can look through the different ideas that are submitted and vote on the ones you love. The ones that get lots of votes rise to the top. You then help refine the idea, picking things like the color or helping to solve an engineering problem. It’s a collaborative process, with development, funding help, supply-chain setup, and a complete offloading of manufacturing.

Once the product is done, Quirky can manufacture it. It has its own 3D printing technology that it can use to make the initial product. Then it can take the product to a factory in China and manufacture the device in massive quantities and put it on retail shelves worldwide.

Quirky owns the intellectual property, so it takes on the responsibility of legally defending the product and its ownership rights. If all you have is an idea, then Quirky can supply all of the rest.

Hatch serves a complementary role to Haxlr8r, Kickstarter, or other companies trying to get their custom product made.  With Hatch, Start-ups get a one-stop resource for development, manufacturing and overall management of what goes on in China.  Plus Start-ups keep their equity and work with Hatch on development and manufacturing in either a hands on or hands off approach. Hatch provides direct access to development teams in China that can give fast and accurate feedback. Hatch also sorts out the supply chain and manufacturing, at its own manufacturing facility or one more suitable for your specific product, so you don’t have to manage that. And it can stick to schedules better than crowdfunding sources that don’t have solid ties to manufacturing.

As you can see, product inventors now have multiple choices for taking their ideas from conception through development, prototyping, and manufacturing, thanks to the services offered by multi-faceted crowdfunding and manufacturing services companies. You can bet that the result will be a flowing of innovation and small startup hardware manufacturing. And this should give the innovation economy a big boost, and it means that consumers will get more products that they really want, more quickly, and at cheaper prices, than ever before.

Hitting the Target


Once the development process starts there is limited flexibility for change because most changes require back tracking.  Back tracking not only loses time, but often also ends up adding cost and demotivating the people involved with the development process.  If a product concept isn’t fully defined it’s best to do very simple prototypes or renderings to help finalize the product concept before going into the formal development process.

Before starting any product development project it’s important to clearly define: 1) how the product looks (casing); 2) how the product works (firmware); 3) what hardware the product uses (components).  These definitions are the final goals for the project, but setting smaller goals can help provide direction along the way to arrive at the final destination.

Why is it important to set goals?  If nothing else goals act as a series of checkpoints to work towards that create direction and can be a means of measuring the progress of the project.  More than anything though, goals help to constantly track, monitor and optimize your operations.  The rewards of having focus driven by goal setting is invaluable to companies trying to bring a product to market within a limited amount of time.  The benefits of doing this include reduced cost, quicker development, and better control over the product development process.

“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.”

Brian Tracy
(Motivational speaker)