As a world-class hardware product development company for startups and inventors, one of our objectives is to demystify product development for all. As with any specialized industry, there always seems to be new terminology to learn. Today, we’d like to dive into one of the most common questions we get.
What is the difference between hardware, software, and firmware?
Computers, smartphones, tablets, routers are all examples of hardware. They are real, physical, and tangible products. However, there is one key defining feature about hardware that’s different from other physical products. Hardware contains an electrical component such as a PCB (Printed Circuit Board).
Our client’s, PetBot, is also an example of hardware. Our hardware product development company helped build a device that helps pet owners stay connected with their pets even when they’re not at home. Pet owners can watch their pets and reward them with treats from their smartphone at the office, gym, or anywhere as long as they’re online. These functions require the electrical component to enable the motion sensor, pet treat dispenser, camera, and microphone. Cool device, right? They got so popular that Petcube acquired them back in 2018.
If you remember the movie Matrix, you’ll also probably remember the scenes green lines of gibberish that showed up on your screen. That’s supposed to resemble code – and that’s exactly what software is. Software is not tangible, it exists digitally. It’s programming code that’s used to build your favorite apps, computer programs, and operating systems. You need both the right hardware product and software to be able to read this text on your screen or make a call with your smartphone – it is the medium that connects people and hardware. And because it exists digitally, it can also be updated to add new features and continually optimize the user experience.
Going back to our hardware product development company’s client PetBot, users also need to download software on their smartphones to enjoy all of the PetBot functions. If users want to take a pet selfie or video chat with their pet, they can control the camera with a few simple taps of their smartphone.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Firmware is a type of software. Like software, it’s also virtual and made up of programming code. Unlike software, however, it’s not meant to be directly interacted with by the user. Instead, the user should be interacting with the hardware to enjoy the functions enabled by the firmware. You might install and delete software on a whim, but chances are, you’d never do that with firmware. The firmware is what controls the hardware product.
Let’s use the PetBot example again to understand this a little better. Whether it’s the camera or the treat dispenser, all of the electrical PetBot functions, the firmware contains the code to ensure these functions work exactly as intended. If there are bugs or improvement changes, users can download a firmware update to make these changes.
MAKO Design + Invent is the original firm providing world-class consumer product development services tailored to small businesses, startups, and inventors. Simply put, we are the leading one-stop-shop for developing your physical product from idea to store shelves, all in a high-quality, cost-effective, and timely manner. We operate as one powerhouse 30-person product design team spread across 4 offices to serve you (Austin, Miami, San Francisco, & Toronto). We have full-stack in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, patent referral, prototyping, and manufacturing services. To assist our startup and inventor clients, in addition to above, we help with business strategy, product strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. Also, our founder Kevin Mako hosts The Product Startup Podcast, the industry’s leading hardware podcast. Check it out for tips, interviews, and best practices for hardware startups, inventors, and product developers. Feel free to Contact Us anytime for help with your project.