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Tablet Economics: How Custom Tablet Prices and Development Stack Up Against Standard Tablets

We are approached on a regular basis for a custom designed tablet for applications that require volumes of several hundred to several thousand units. Our Modified COTS approach leverages proven existing tablet designs to prototype and produce custom tablets that allow our customers to get to market fast and efficiently with reduced risks. In many cases, the nature of the modifications require that we re-spin the electronics, display solution, power architecture, mechanical design, connectors, and/or the look and feel of the tablet.

High quality off the shelf commercial tablets are designed and certified for mass production and worldwide distribution. Successful companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft will produce each tablet model in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. This allows them to take advantage of economies of scale and drive the price of their tablets to the $200-$900 range, depending on display size, memory, cellular capability, and other features. These tablets are designed for a relatively short (often 1 to 2-year) life build and use readily available components at the time of the build. After that, a new model will be introduced following the same pattern. Using this model, these companies don’t have to worry about end of life and obsolete components since the supply chain is set up to specifically support their product builds. Also, these tablets implement a widely demanded set of features with minimal opportunities for expansion or incorporation of customizations.

Companies offering deep discount Android tablets (<$200 for a 7” tablet) often use lower-end processors and components that have gone end-of-life. For example, there may be a surplus of obsolete displays in the market due to features that higher end tablets have surpassed. These displays are typically available as a one-time buy, sometimes at 3-5% of the cost of a new display. Low-end tablet manufacturers will purchase these displays and other components (lower density memory, older pedigree processors, obsolete connectors, etc.) and manufacture tablets that sell at extremely low prices. As you may guess, these tablets will not have the latest features, their performance cannot match the higher end manufacturer’s tablets and will not be manufactured for a long period of time.

There are certain key aspects of custom tablets that make it difficult to achieve the pricing that the mass manufacturers of commercial tablets achieve.

  • Volumes – Most custom tablet customers would like 100 to 10,000 per year. Costs can be reduced through the use of blanket orders – typically, anything that can increase the volumes above 1,000, 10,000, etc., will help drive down costs of electronics, displays, batteries, plastics, etc. The key is being able to order all components in as large a scale as possible.
  • Longevity of product – If you are going to take the time, cost and effort to create a custom tablet, you would want it to be available for many years. Most of our customers are looking for a 7-10 year manufacturing life. This requires component selection that differs from commercial products. For example displays for commercial high volume designs may be available for a couple of years. For a custom tablet that requires a supply chain of 7-10 years we need to look at industrial displays. These displays may not have the latest resolutions and features, but they do have a long life cycle and come at a higher price.
  • Unique requirements – Again, many of the custom tablets are for applications that consumer tablets will not support. Environmental factors typically require components with broader temperature ranges or enclosures that keep rain and dust from impacting the unit. Unique connections such as CANBUS or other serial connections may drive the need for costly connectors. And unique use cases may drive custom interfaces such as resistive touch screens for use with gloves or rugged enclosures with chemically strengthened glass.
  • Certifications – Any change from a standard tablet requires additional testing and certification – from simple FCC compliance to more stringent MilSpec and ATEX compliance depending on the use case of the tablet. Most commercial off the shelf (COTS) tablets will not be certified to any of the more stringent environments.

These are just a few of the factors that can drive the cost of custom tablets. At SECO USA, we start with our known product that has been proven to operate in rough environments. We minimize the technical risk and help you get your custom tablet to market faster, with lower cost as compared to starting from scratch. Our goal on manufacturing costs is to approximate the cost of off-the-shelf commercial tablets in volumes of 5,000-10,000.

Contact SECO USA for an evaluation of your custom tablet specifications. Based on a set of high level requirements, we can quickly assess cost and schedule to get you to market.

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