Software as lubricant - Embedded.com

Software as lubricant

Software has long been the grease that helps move hardware. Hardware systems companies have a grand tradition of giving away software to sell their products. Examples of such software include development tools, middleware, and applications.

The amount of software that's being made available to induce customers to buy hardware products is on the rise, a trend that's reflected by the increase in the number of software developers you'll find in traditional hardware companies. In addition, tool companies are offering more complete solutions for application domains.

Moreover, processor manufacturers are helping their customers incorporate their products by offering not just reference designs but tools and middleware as well.

As hardware performance increases, the number of features that can be implemented in software will increase, driven by factors ranging from safety and reliability considerations to shorter time-to-market requirements. That means of course that the amount of software in systems will increase.

Automotive design, on which we focus this week, is just one example of where the increase in software content is becoming evident. High-end, feature-rich automobiles now depend on software for many of their capabilities, a point you'll likely reflect on the next time you have to take your vehicle in for a software upgrade — a process that can take several hours to complete.

But when you go SUV shopping, you're not buying software; you're looking for iron. The software is there to enhance the value of the vehicle so as to induce you to buy it.

The fact that software has become such a vehicle (no pun intended) for feature implementation and its importance for safety and reliability may change its value proposition. To improve their competitiveness, tool/RTOS vendors are offering toolsets tailored to particular application domains. It's not enough to sell just an RTOS or a compiler anymore.

Developers on the other hand are recognizing that they can't do everything themselves, and as software content increases, they have to focus more on their added value. As they realize that they can't build everything and still get to market in a timely fashion with a robust product, developers will have to acquire more of the underlying components.

In a recent Embedded.com poll, 47 percent of responders indicated that they create all embedded software in house. Another 38 percent said they buy some commercial software IP. That's a trend that's likely to continue.

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