The hardware hogs all the glory

Why do we get so attracted to shiny new hardware, when it's actually the software and services that make the hardware worthwhile?

Adam Richardson

Humans really are like magpies; we love shiny things. The iPad shows yet again how easily we are attracted to hardware baubles, even if it's actually the more abstract ecosystem of services, content, and software surrounding the hardware that makes the physical product truly worthwhile.

I find this a fascinating phenomenon, and it's something I talk about in the chapter on Convergence in my book, as it's a critical thing to understand if you are in the business of creating ecosystems that combine hardware, software, and service elements. I've seen it happen time and again where a company wanting to create such an ecosystem gets hung up on the hardware, but ignores the software or service pieces, or the background enablers that are vital to making the ecosystem work well. The hardware hogs the spotlight at the expense of the other pieces, I think because it is so visceral. The challenges in bringing the other less concrete pieces to life are important, but less immediate. Frankly they can often be quite dull.

In the book I make the analogy of trains. People love trains, especially my fellow Englishmen. Steam trains in particular hold a fascination because they seem so alive. Today we are so used to our technologies working invisibly or microscopically that it is a real treat to see pistons driving wheels, clouds of steam billowing out, and hear lots of loud and wonderful noises as the locomotive powers along.

You don't see the same level of interest in railroad track, switching stations, or timetables, however. The in-your-face hardware gets all the attention.

Trains as products are fascinating--but worthless. But trains as part of a railway ecosystem are tremendously valuable.

So it goes with most ecosystems. It's fine for consumers to focus their attention on the hardware, but if you're developing an ecosystem you can't indulge that bias. This is the mistake we see clients make when they say they want the iPod/iPhone of their industry--they forget that it's the ecosystem that makes them a success, the hardware is just the hook. You must pay attention to every detail, no matter how invisible or dull it may be to the end consumer. Only when all those details are taken care of (and believe me Apple sweats those details more than just about anyone else) will the ecosystem really sing.

[The picture above, by the way, is one I took on the platform of a German train station. Taking a train in Germany is a completely different experience than in the U.S., and they've really got the whole thing dialed. The platforms are much longer than most of the trains, so this poster shows you where your train will arrive relative to your position on the platform, and there are several of these posters at different points on each platform. While the German train system is generally quite high-tech, here they went with a decidedly low-tech solution--a piece of red string taped to the poster to show where you are standing in relation to the train and the different classes of cars (shown in different colors). Wonderful.]

Tags:
Tech Culture
About the author

    Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.

     

    Join the discussion

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Don't Miss
    Hot Products
    Trending on CNET

    HOT ON CNET

    Find Your Tech Type

    Take our tech personality quiz and enter for a chance to win* high-tech specs!