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Hardware vs Software vs Firmware? What do I wear and for what?

Updated: Apr 28

In today’s day and age, technology terminology is everywhere. There are so many terms out there that abbreviations have now been created to “simplify” these terms and phrases — for example, SaaS, NFT, and IoT —but in reality, they just create even more confusion. These terms often keep people from understanding exactly what a product or solution truly does. I still get confused when colleagues explain NFTs to me.


The industry of telematics is no different. Even that sentence includes a niche terminology that can be confusing and deterring to someone who could potentially benefit from the product (see here for an easy explanation of what exactly telematics is). Beyond that, though, there are many core technology terms that mean specific things, but when seen from an outside perspective, can easily blend with other terms and create a cluster of confusing technology jargon.


The easiest example to describe this situation includes the different “wares.” There are three main “wares” in the technology world: software, firmware, and hardware. Software and hardware are very popular terms used for many things, but firmware is not as popular — and for me at least, when I first heard the term firmware, it also made me question what the other two “wares” meant. But understanding the differences among these three terms, and what’s more, how they interact with each other, is not only important in better understanding technology in general, but is also very helpful in understanding the value that Positioning Universal’s telematics solutions bring.


Before breaking each “ware” down, it is important to understand what these three items refer to. The “wares” are like a team. Each one plays a different position, and they all work together to achieve the goal of computing things and completing functions. In other words, these three “wares” represent different parts of a technology solution. This can be a phone, a computer, a GPS tracking solution, a video game console, and much more. Basically, any product that utilizes technology to do something uses some combination of these three “wares.” Now, let us investigate what position each one plays on the team.


Hardware



Let us start with hardware. Hardware represents the physical product that things are being done on. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Laptop or desktop computers

  • Smartphones

  • GPS devices

  • Routers

  • Flash drives

  • Scanners

So, the physical laptop that you buy from the store is the hardware. The actual phone that you carry is hardware. Hardware is the physical materials — plastic, metal, wires, etc. — that make up a product. The way the hardware is constructed allows for it to handle different functions, but overall, it is the foundation on which the solution is built.


As you can see from exploring its website, Positioning Universal is the leading provider of customizable mobile IoT hardware products. So, we sell the physical product — the foundation for the GPS tracking solution that gives fleet managers the insights they want for their fleet. But then, what makes the solution customizable?


Software



Software is all of the things that hardware isn’t. When you purchase that new laptop or smartphone, it does not do anything until software is downloaded onto the product. Software uses the foundation that hardware built to carry out its functions. Some examples of software include:

  • Operating systems like Windows 11 and iOS

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • Web browsers such as Google Chrome or Safari

  • Any mobile app, from Candy Crush to Spotify

So, by looking at these examples you can see that software plays a specific role. What is important to note about software is that many different pieces of software can exist on one piece of hardware. Your phone can carry both Safari and Spotify, and many more software packages besides. In essence, the hardware is what you can “feel,” and the software is what you can “see.” The software conducts the actual function and provides the solution.

What allows Positioning Universal’s products to be so customizable is that software can be utilized to extract so many different insights from the devices. Because of the robust hardware design of the product, each fleet manager can be assured that they can find exactly what they need and utilize the software to see those insights on their computer screen.


At this point it seems like the solution is complete. However, firmware is still a critical part to the Positioning Universal product offering and other technology solutions. So where does it fall into place? What position does it play?


Firmware



Firmware is similar to software, but it is software that is specifically designed for a piece of hardware. It serves a very narrow purpose, but depending on the solution the product is trying to provide, firmware can make the process much easier and more complete. If hardware is the foundation for software to build on, firmware is akin to equipping the software with cutting-edge tools to do the work.


For example, with Positioning Universal’s products, the firmware installed on the devices allows for features like precise ignition detection, driver behavior and accident logging, ELD, and more. Having this embedded in the firmware allows the device to streamline those functions that are needed for telematics solutions, and then from there the software can pick and choose what insights to pull and report.


So, firmware consists essentially of functionalities that are pre-installed into a piece of hardware and are specifically designed for that piece of hardware. Software needs to be global; it needs to work for everything. You should be able to use Google Chrome on any computer or smartphone. However, firmware only needs to work for the device on which it is installed. Having advanced firmware on devices like the FT7500 allows the software to focus less on finding the insights — driver behavior, ELD, GPS tracking, etc. — and more on how to deliver that information to the user.


Conclusion


In conclusion, the three “wares” all serve distinct purposes, with the combined goal of providing a robust, smooth technology solution. If we were building a house, the hardware would be the foundation for that house. The software actually builds the house off of that foundation, and firmware gives the software different cutting-edge tools to make the building process as efficient as possible. All three are critical to the functionality of a technology solution, and when combined correctly, can result in some pretty spectacular things.

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