in Hardware

Hardware companies will learn to be software companies

In the past I’ve observed that as processor speed increases, software replaces dedicated hardware. For example, in music or video production programs like GarageBand and Final Cut Pro and a stock Macintosh can replace dedicated rack systems and DSP chips.

Now with Web 2.0-ish advances on the Internet, we can go further and say as bandwidth increases, remote applications replace locally installed applications.

Yamaha has developed a beautiful prototype of a device that “allows everyone to play music intuitively.” But the simplicity of the user interface begs the question of why isn’t it implemented in software (i.e. why can’t I get my hands on this now?). I know the obvious answers, and I appreciate a great hardware UI and portability, but believe we’ll only gain more utility from network-based software applications as people adopt them. It makes even more sense when you see someone make something that looks similar and is a lot of fun, like Ollie Rankin’s Ten or Eleven (imagine this on a tablet PC).

  1. While I’ll sign-up to the general notion – I think Jens at makes a good point: “I don’t really think you can turn things like this into software, that is, remove the physical aspect and at the same time create such a relationship. Toys like this invites to different kinds of play. In this case perhaps even a different kind of sound, imperfectly performed.”

    I think you need to make a distinction about what it makes sense to turn into software, and what aspects of a system you might get diminishing returns from this transformation.

    Such an area where we are just starting to understand the benefits of the tangible, and the physical – is human user-interface. Cf. Paul Dourish’s book ‘Where the action is”

    Nintendo’s DS and Revolution, the touch-interface demo on youtube that did the rounds, Final Scratch and the beautiful example you chose to illustrate your point with demonstrate the promise of the tangible, the analogue, the embodied – married to fantastic software.

  2. When I say “we’ll only gain more utility from network-based software applications as people adopt them” that’s a subtle way of saying just about everything should move to software. I think the current generation of kids growing up has weaker bonds to physical things and stronger bonds to networked things than we do, and being on the network will be vital to widespread adoption. Pretty soon we’re going to hit the limit of how many devices each person will buy/carry/drive/live in, and after that it’s all software.

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