Monday, January 23, 2012

Building devices instead of platforms

The title of this posting is a concept that flies in opposition to conventional wisdom.  Everything seems to be a platform these days. When you buy a gadget or appliance you are not buying a device, you are investing in a platform. Refrigerators are appearing with Android embedded.  We are looking at a future of doing "software updates" to our appliances!

Of course, there is big talk about the "Internet of Things", and that could be grand (my washing machine could one day query my fridge about the tomato sauce stain it encountered on my shirt and then place an order on Amazon for the correct stain treatment product).

But, the consider the "elephant in the room": these devices will suffer from that dreaded of all software plagues: "ship now; fix later in an update".

This doesn't tend to happen when you talk about your appliances and devices containing "firmware" (in the original sense). My washing machine has embedded microprocessors but there is no evident way to upgrade the firmware. Hence, the engineers have got to get it right before it ships.  The software is apparently sophistica Of course, this is not always the case, but the "get it right" mindset is there. You don't want to tell people they have to call a service technician and "upgrade" their washing machine when it locks up.

For all the smarts my washing machine has, it is still a "device" (not a platform).

This rant bleeds into the common "old fogy" rant that a cell phone should be (just) a phone.  I don't think we need to start limiting the potential of our devices, but there are some that should just "work".
We are losing that when we start designing a device and our first step is to choose an OS.

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