Esper x Hatch: Custom Devices, Simplified

Cam Summerson
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My grandmother used to say, “Cam, modern problems require modern solutions.” Four-year-old me, eyes glazed over, had no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood that her sage advice was about how organizations need to adopt a custom solution to advance in the market and stay ahead of the competition. A wise woman, my grandmother. 

If you want to set yourself apart, a custom solution is the way. Often, we see businesses struggle with off-the-shelf hardware — like trying to make a round peg fit into a square hole. (That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with off-the-shelf kit, of course — if it works, it works!) 

You may find yourself in exactly that situation: wondering if a custom option is right for you. That’s why we teamed up with our friends from Hatch to break down the why, who, when, and how of going custom. 

Buckle up. We’re going on a ride. 

Why Go Custom?

There are a number of reasons why you should go custom, including control, security, branding, user experience, performance, and long-term cost savings (to name a few). Let’s break those down. 

  • Full control: This one is a given, right? From hardware to software, a custom Android device gives you full control so you can ensure it aligns with your business goals, requirements, and overall posture. 
  • Enhanced security: With a custom option, you can implement specific security measures, such as proprietary encryption methods, hardware access, and similar measures. 
  • Performance: You can tailor your devices to a specific use case, allowing you to optimize the performance and efficiency of the specific tasks of that device. 
  • Custom branding: It’s your hardware, and having custom branding on your hardware and software is a pretty big flex. Your customers and employees will love it, and your competition will be green with envy. 
  • User experience: If you have a vision for how you want your hardware to look, custom lets you achieve it. If you have a vision for how your software should work, custom lets you achieve it. 
  • Long-term cost savings: This is the one most often overlooked. With anything custom, there’s an upfront cost, but you can save money in the long run by reducing IT overhead, increasing efficiency and performance, and increasing device lifespans because you’re in control of the software and updates. 

Hatch has a great blog post that covers many of these points in detail, so I highly suggest reading that, too. Ultimately, the big takeaway is pretty clear: it’s about control. But custom hardware isn’t for everyone.

Who is Custom for? 

While the benefits of going custom are pretty clear, knowing if it’s right for your company can get pretty murky. That said, most industries can benefit from a custom option. Some examples include: 

  • Retail, restaurant, and hospitality: Self checkout kiosks, point of sale systems, and inventory management devices
  • Logistics and manufacturing: Rugged devices (barcode scanners, tablets), delivery tracking systems, fleet management, and quality control hardware
  • Healthcare: Specialized medical devices, clinical trial hardware, and telehealth solutions
  • Correctional facilities: Inmate learning devices, digital commissary systems, and electronic monitoring devices

Of course, that’s far from an exhaustive list — it’s just to give you an idea of where a custom solution might make sense. There are many other scenarios where a custom device might fit the bill. But you know the saying: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

You might consider going custom if your business relies on specialized software and you want specific hardware features. Or you need longer-term device support and enhanced security. Or you have a use case that requires a unique form factor. But even then, it’s not the best fit for all companies. 

For example, if you’re an early-stage startup, it’s probably not a good idea to go custom right out of the gate — even if your use case could benefit from it. As Hatch points out, you shouldn’t attempt custom without proper funding. They recommend budgeting at least $350k to start (and even planning to spend more). In the end, this may cost less than buying retail devices, but with retail devices, there's no minimum order quantity. If you aren't sure about the volume you'll need, you may want to start with an off the shelf option where volume isn't an issue. Similarly, if you haven’t thoroughly vetted your use case and proven the need for a custom product, it’s probably best to gain more experience using commodity hardware first. 

So, what does commodity hardware mean? Essentially, it's existing hardware. Use whiteboxed or other generic hardware to prove your concepts, optimize your software, and define the desired experience. This strategy will enable you to more accurately define requirements and streamline the development process if you decide to go custom later. 

Going Custom Isn’t Complicated

So, you’ve decided that custom is right for you. Congratulations! What’s next? According to Hatch, the best approach when thinking about going custom is to work backward from the end product. 

  1. Define the end result you want to achieve 
  2. Lay out what that looks like from a hardware and software perspective
  3. Document timelines and plan funding
  4. Find your partner to make it all happen 

Easy enough, right? This is where partnerships like Hatch and Esper come into play. You could theoretically try to source and build the device and software on your own, but that’s a lot of overhead when companies like Hatch exist precisely for this purpose. That said, it doesn't hurt to have an idea of the components to start — this will help speed up the process. We have a resource that covers hardware, components, and key considerations in great detail. 

Ultimately, you need to know where you want to end up. From there, you’ll work directly with a company like Hatch to make it happen. 

That pretty much settles the hardware aspect. Now, let’s talk software. 

Custom Devices Need a Custom OS

Software for custom hardware can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You could even build it in-house if you have the right developer team, and that might be the way to go for simpler interfaces or changes. The operating system you choose will also impact what your custom solution looks like, but the two most common choices are Linux and Android. 

For our purpose, we’ll focus on Android. Hatch specializes in custom Android hardware, and we have a custom operating system called Esper Foundation for Android. Together, we know a thing or two about integrating a custom hardware solution with custom software, so it makes sense to stick with that.

Once you and Hatch have ironed out all the details for your custom hardware, the three of us (you, Hatch, and Esper) can start to think about software. You have a few choices here: 

  • Build your software in-house: As stated earlier, if a barebones setup is all you’re after, or the entire experience is running off an app, this isn’t a bad solution. some text
    • Pros: You have full control over the entire software stack. 
    • Cons: You can’t just build it once and forget about it — software updates and security patches are also your responsibility. 
  • Work with Esper: With Esper Foundation for Android, you tell us what you want and let us take care of the rest. It’s custom without the hassle. some text
    • Pros: The responsibility of building and maintaining your custom operating system is off your hands, so you can focus on your business. 
    • Cons: More upfront costs. This is the same consideration as custom hardware — higher upfront costs but better long-term ROI. 

The benefit of going with custom software — especially if you plan on using Esper for device management — doesn’t just stop at the OS level, either. Another huge advantage of building custom software is that you can incorporate your device management solution from the start (and in the case of Esper, even if you don’t use Foundation). 

Device Management Baked in From the Ground Level

You can use Esper on any Android or iOS device in your fleet and get sophisticated, next-gen device management features. That gets even better on a custom device because your unique settings can be included in your hardware at the factory level. For example, Seamless Provisioning on Esper creates huge efficiencies with deployment. 

Seamless Provisioning tells the device exactly what to do when you boot it up for the first time. Straight out of the box, you turn it on, and boom — it connects to the correct Wi-Fi network, onboards itself to Esper, and applies your specfic settings. You don’t have to do anything. This is a stock feature on Foundation, but we can enable it on any custom Android OS — it just needs a little tweaking on your end (assuming you’re building your OS in-house). 

The same goes for remote control and other powerful Esper features. They just work a little bit better when you can work them in at the OS level instead of after the fact. This is a huge benefit of at least OS customization, and it works the same with commodity or custom hardware. 

And if you decide that Foundation is the right answer for your custom build, you get the benefit of regular software updates and security patches. With our robust OTA system, you can even schedule when these builds roll out to your devices or push them out in stages. Your business, your devices, your OS — your call. 

The marriage between custom hardware, custom software, and powerful MDM offers a truly holistic approach to your tech strategy that is second to none. 

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to explore what a truly custom solution can do for your business, get in touch. Start with Hatch for your custom hardware; let us handle software and device management. Let's chat even if you’re not sure this is the right option. We can help you decide. 

Learn more about Hatch
Learn more about Esper Foundation for Android

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Cam Summerson
Cam Summerson

Cam is Esper's Director of Content and brings over 10 years of technology journalism experience to Esper, including nearly half-a-decade as Editor in Chief of a technology publication. He currently oversees the ideation, execution, and distribution plans for numerous types of content from blog posts to ebooks and beyond.

Cam Summerson
Learn about Esper mobile device management software for Android and iOS
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