In the world of technology, we often speak of hardware and software as two sides of the same coin. Hardware (the physical component of an electronic system) and software (the programs and applications installed on hardware) are very different, but still must work together to deliver the familiar products and services we use every day.
Since the invention of the very first computer, both hardware and software have played an integral part in technological innovation. We can’t build SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) products without powerful servers and data centers. Nor can we use our personal computers to their fullest potential without well-designed operating systems and software applications.
However, despite their symbiotic relationship, development tools for hardware and software have had very different evolutionary paths in recent years. While software development tools have become powerful, mobile, and accessible, professional hardware development tools remain largely stuck in the ’90s, with clunky GUIs, and hard-to-use interfaces.
Why is there a lack of innovation in hardware development tools, and why does that matter?
The gap between hardware and software tools
Let’s start by defining a few terms. On the most basic level, hardware is the physical and tangible part of an electronic system, such as a computer CPU, smartphone, or electronic components of a robot. Software refers to the programs and operating systems that can be stored and run by hardware.
Developer Tools are applications that developers use to build software and hardware products. Some of the most common developer tools include IDEs (Integrated Development Environment), debuggers, cloud providers, and data studios. In general, the more developer tools there are, the more likely it is to find one that suits a particular developer’s style, and the easier it is to create new and innovative products and services.
But, a quick look through the many developer tools available out there will show you that there have been many more advancements in modern developer tools for software compared to hardware. And it makes sense – tools for software development are easier and less costly to build. In fact, many companies are developing low code or no-code solutions to help make software development even more accessible. Today, just about anyone can build a website or write a simple software program, without needing an engineering background or writing a single line of code themselves. Perhaps in the future, even the most advanced aspects of software development may be vastly simplified.
However, the same vision of accessibility and simplicity does not currently apply to hardware development. Many hardware developers are still using tools from decades ago for a simple reason: modern and affordable options for building hardware are few and far between. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that while software engineers develop with tools on the cutting edge of technology, hardware engineers are still stuck using applications that haven’t been updated since the 90s.
The hard problem that needs to be solved
Software has been dominating the conversation in Silicon Valley in recent years, a trend that has catapulted many SaaS companies into tech giants. However, we cannot forget that hardware still powers much of this software innovation. Hardware remains an irreplaceable foundation for advancements in technology.
In fact, you might be surprised to know that hardware innovation almost always precedes software innovation. Computers needed to be created before the invention of the World Wide Web. Engineers need more advanced embedded chips to build the next laptop or smartphone. We need new hardware technology to support IoT devices. Advancements in processing power play an indispensable role in Web3, providing the infrastructure for blockchain technology. Software developers constantly need newer chips with faster, stronger, and better processing power to build software applications.
Since hardware is such an important foundation for current and future technological advancements, it is crucial for developers to have access to better tools to make building hardware easier. This is why we need innovation in hardware developer tools. It is time for hardware development to catch up to its software counterpart.
The good news is that we are already starting to see innovation in the hardware development space. Newer technologies like simulations help minimize challenges that stem from the physical nature of hardware. Abhijeet Patra, program director at On Deck Deep Tech, talks about how simulations are making hardtech easier.
New hardware startups that utilize virtual, cloud-based, and simulation technologies like AllSpice, Renode.io, and Flux are changing the way engineers build hardware products, and we expect to see this trend of virtualizing hardware to continue. Read more in this TechCrunch article that discusses innovation in the hardware development startup space.
We built Sahara Cloud to help make virtual hardware development modern, faster, and easier. Innovation in hardware development tools is long overdue, and our goal is to finally bring hardware development tools to the 21st century. Read about why engineers are shifting to building hardware digitally and why we believe virtualization will democratize hardware.
If you resonate with our mission and want to try out our virtual hardware development platform, sign up to join the community of beta testers here.