Hardware looks like software

Most of us are not really involved in designing or building new electronics hardware, but we all use it. Daily.
It’s worth taking a moment then to look at what’s happening in the hardware world and see what changes are in store for us…… And most likely, in store for us this year!


Joichi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab. Ito, who is also co-chair of the O’Reilly Solid Conference, recalls sending a group of MIT students to Shenzhen so they could see for themselves how manufacturing is evolving. “Once they got their heads around the processes in a deep way, they understood the huge differences between prototyping and manufacturing. Design for prototyping and design for manufacturing are fundamentally different,” says Ito. The problem in today’s world, according to Ito, is that “we have abstracted industrial design to the point where we think that we can just throw designs over a wall” and somehow they will magically reappear as finished products.

Just hang on a sec here…. MIT students, from USA, went to China to learn about manufacturing…… That right there speaks volumes… Moving along…
There is a difference between prototyping and manufacturing. Stop here for another second…. This is something that I have had to learn here at Opto.
I’m a mashup guy. I can throw stuff together, sometimes quickly, sometimes over months of work, but either way, it’s very much a prototype. Its a kluge.
A bunch of shoddy code and hardware all stuck together with duct tape.
Sometimes, I can’t even reproduce what I have done! It’s working, I can see it, test it, demo it, but even I can’t make another one…..
Manufacture it in volume. Uh, not so much.
It’s been pretty cool and interesting (if at times personally frustrating) to learn how to step back and see how to take an idea and actually MAKE it into a product that can be sold and used by customers the world over.

The existing paradigm — the status quo — favors companies whose products and services are based mainly on software because software can be scaled rapidly at minimal cost. The emerging paradigm favors companies whose products and services are based mainly on hardware because the cost of developing and manufacturing hardware is dropping precipitously.

Here is the key that I wanted to get to.
The line between hardware and software is blurring.
As end users we are going to see this shift in the products we buy and use.
And sadly, in the products we throw away. (Just a personal note on that one, I really really miss my circle of mates back home, we had a nice system of passing ‘old’ hardware around – it got used and reused, it got hacked and re built many times – over here, it gets thrown out and I never get my grubby paws on it!).
Hardware is getting cheaper, we are not going to have to save and save for the new shiny, it will be affordable enough that we don’t have to take months to consider buying it. It also means that the upgrade cycle will become faster.

The innovators in places like Shenzhen are showing the world that hardware start-ups can look a lot like software start-ups. They don’t necessarily need tons of seed money or venture capital; they can be spun up relatively quickly; and if they fail, they can be broken down and sold for spare parts. That’s the paradigm shift — and the people who control large portions of the global economy and decide where to invest trillions of dollars, yen, yuan, won, or rupees are beginning to see hardware as the coolest new shiny object.

It will start to happen this year. It will no longer take 2-3 years from when a new prototype is paraded in the press till we can buy it.
That time is going to become 4-6 months.

Hardware looks like the new software.