A Modest Proposal

What we ought to dofor cell phones and, by extension, all devices with embedded softwareis to package the software with the battery, not with the device. You would buy the basic device without batteries or software, although it wouldn't be worth muchnot even as a doorstop, because it's so lightweight. But at least it could be commoditized down to the lowest unit cost manufacturing efficiencies will allow.

Then, to power it up, you would buy batteries.[1] Each device would have its own type of battery. The software would come along, piggybacked onto the battery. I abstract the technical implementation details here. Think of it as a "battery pack" if you like; I prefer, for marketing reasons, just to think of it as a "smarter" battery.

[1] Of course, these batteries could be packaged with the device at the time you buy it.

This would cause a vast diversification in the battery business, but we have seen industrial transformations of this type before. Today, we tend to think of batteries as a commodity. Actually, they already exist in many sizes and varieties, depending on electrical requirements and how much you want to spend; rechargeable costs more, for instance. You might think that turning such a commodity business into a more variegated "marketplace" is counterintuitive. But not really; as an analog, just think of the infinite variety of tires (such as car, truck, tractor, snow, racing, and high-performance, not to mention a dizzying array of sizes and form factors) that are currently stocked for mass consumption today. Yet most people think of tires as a commodity. And a hundred years ago, they were.

Needless to say, the battery distribution business would change; there would still be the "dumb batteries" we have today, along with the "smart batteries" that would have piggybacked software. Not all corner grocery stores, souvenir shops, and convenience stores would carry both kinds. We would expect, though, that over time more and more stores would stock and carry smart batteries as the demand for them increased. The free market has a wonderful way of working all that out.

This transformation would lend another layer of meaning to the phrase, "power it up." When you turned on a device, you'd be feeding it electrical power by virtue of the battery; you'd also be giving it intellectual power by virtue of the software on the battery. Power to the hardware, in both senses!

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269

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