Hardware is sexy, but it's software that matters
October 23, 2016
You can make software if you choose to.
Not just the expected version of software that runs on a computer, but the metaphorical idea of rules and algorithms designed to solve problems and connect people...
Apple started as a hardware company with the Apple II. Soon in, they realized that while hardware is required, it's software that changes the world.
For years, the Mac was merely a container for Mac software. It was the software that enabled the work we created, it was software that shifted our relationship with computers and ultimately each other.
Over the last five years, Apple has lost the thread and chosen to become a hardware company again. Despite their huge profits and large staff, we're confronted with (a partial list):
- Automator, a buggy piece of software with no support, and because it's free, no competitors.
- Keynote, a presentation program that hasn't been improved in years.
- IOS 10, which replaces useful with pretty.
- iTunes, which is now years behind useful tools like Roon.
- No significant steps forward in word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, file sharing, internet tools, conferencing, etc. Apple contributed mightily to a software revolution a decade ago, but they've stopped. Think about how many leaps forward Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and others have made in popular software over the last few decades. But it requires a significant commitment to keep it moving forward. It means upending the status quo and creating something new.
Some simple principles:
- Software can change faster than hardware, which means that in changing markets, bet on software.
- It's tempting to treat the user interface as a piece of fashion, some bling, a sort of jewelry. It's not. It's the way your user controls the tool you build. Change it when it stops working, not when you're bored with it. Every time you change the interface, you better have a really good reason.
- Hardware always gets cheaper. If you can't win that race, don't run it.
- Getting users is far more expensive than keeping users, which means that investing in keeping users is the smartest way to maintain your position and then grow.
- Software can create connection, and connection is the engine of our future economy.
This is more than a rant about Apple. Any company that makes or uses software has a wide-open opportunity to dramatically change the way we engage. Hardware, on the other hand, often closes more doors than it opens.
If you can, make software. And bring enough value (through efficiency, power and connection) to the marketplace of your choosing that it will have trouble being productive or happy without you.