Hardware Development, SpaceX, Microsoft, FoodIsGood

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The Logistical Tail of Hardware Development

In Weekly Wheaties #2330 I talked about the stages of App Development. In theory, apps can be created very quickly without regard to the hardware running them. Alternatively, for companies to create a new product, or update an existing product, the process can sometimes take years. For Apple, the M1 chip they built in-house was worked on for 10 years before being released. Now, it looks like they’re down to a 1-year lead time for their phones. However, when depending on other manufacturers, things can get extensive quick. For example, with hundreds of various parts either being sourced or manufactured in over 50 countries, the supply chain and logistical tail for an iPhone is nothing short of astounding. Not to mention the number of companies who could potentially shut down if Apple decided to stop making any one of their products.

When companies decide to move manufacturing of products, especially if moving in-house, the tail of development changes - sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It is usually shorter in the long run, though. Next, having control over the hardware and software allows a much closer integration of the two. Companies can build the hardware to match the software, and the software can take full advantage of the power and features the hardware offers. You can bet Apple and Microsoft are both working on making theirs as short as possible while delivering a top tier product.

On the other hand, those companies who build Android phones and computers that run on Windows are in a unique situation. They may not have all the inside information on what’s coming next, but they are able to “move fast and break things.” Sometimes they take advantages where the others have missed. They take the opportunity to niche down on certain specs (see the Asus Rog Gaming Phone) or features (see the Samsung Galaxy Fold phones) when bigger companies won’t rock the boat and need to cater to the masses.

This isn’t unique to the personal computing and phone space, either. Even Ford’s CEO talks about how difficult it is to change software when there are over 150 companies providing hardware that doesn’t talk to each other. Car manufacturers also become handcuffed to their suppliers as we’ve seen during the covid pandemic. GM, among other car brands, removed heated seats as an option on their vehicles when supply was low. For reasons I’ll never agree with, other car manufacturers are now providing subscription services for cars that already have the hardware installed. A great example of this is BMW and their heated seats. I get that it’s cheaper to install it in scale, but still…

As consumers want more and more from their devices, and as these devices flirt with the edge of current available technology, keep in mind - at any given point, the latest and greatest products are still arguably at least a couple of years behind what’s truly possible. There are always arguments on whether Moore’s Law is dead, but there seems to at least be one thing that stays true year over year with technology; the same amount of money a year from now will buy the same device that is generally faster and has more space, or at least adds new features previously unavailable. Regardless of whether that’s what you think you want, it’s still a win for the technology community at large. Ultimately, the movement from one manufacture to another typically improves quality and reduces costs for the company selling the product, too. And I still think that’s a win for the consumer.

As we compare this to the software side, keep in mind - these hardware updates have been planned out for years. The planning is only one consideration as we’ve now seen there is another issue with the timing of manufacturing of the hardware. All in, companies who control both may have a leg up on what software capabilities will be available while others play catch-up. I know you may get tired of my using the iPhone as an example, but it is easy to explain and understand…

For a perspective of history, the first iPhone released in 2007 had a camera, but could not take video. However, before the second iteration of the iPhone was released, those in the hacking community had already jailbroke the phone to record video. While the hardware allowed it, Apple’s software didn’t. So… why not? Well, I can speak for Apple, but they (and other companies) typically want the best experience for their customers. There’s a chance they didn’t think the hardware or software was quite ready - even if they use the same exact hardware for the next version. This practice of limiting what the hardware or software can do still continues today. With the release of the iPhone 15, the camera hardware includes the same parts as the iPhone 14 Pro. Even though they use the same software, the newer, but on paper - lower end and less expensive phone, takes better pictures. Marques Brownlee attempts to explain this a bit more in depth on his YouTube channel.

As new phones and other technology hardware becomes released in the coming months or years, remember something the media won’t be completely genuine about: Company A is not releasing their product with hardware X or feature Y because Company B did - they’ve been working on that for years, and it’s already been on their roadmap. Arguably, software updates can be made to meet the demands of the market, but if it’s dictated on hardware requirements - don’t hold your breath.

ICYMI: SpaceX Updates

While announced as early as 2015, SpaceX did not send up Starlink satellites until 2019. Four years later, they noted $1.4 billion in revenue and have since turned a profit in the first quarter of 2023. With more than 5,000 satellites currently in orbit, most of the US, Australia, and Europe now have coverage, while other countries of interest should be available soon. Off land, Starlink has partnered with Maersk to provide internet access to the company’s ocean fleet of over 300 container vessels. This deal provides benefits for the crew’s welfare and business processes. To compete with Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to launch their satellites in early 2024 and begin their beta test thereafter.

ICYMI: Microsoft Acquires Activision Blizzard

After months waiting from the courts on regulatory issues, the UK has agreed to approve Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activistion Blizzard. As a gaming company, Activision Blizzard owns multiple other subsidiaries responsible for making many popular video games across a slew of consoles and devices. Including: Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Overwatch, War of Warcaft, among others. There are a few nuances to the deal, but it can be assumed many of the games will eventually become cross-compatible and be included in Microsoft’s Game Pass. This also gives Microsoft a jump start on mobile gaming. A potential odd competitor, Netflix, has already released a set of mobile games and is testing out cloud-streamed games to connected devices.

POTW: FoodIsGood

We’ve heard the statement, “There’s an app for that” plenty of times before. What’s interesting, is many of the apps available in very niche spaces aren’t widely known about. I believe that’s what may have happened with the app FoodIsGood, also known as FIG. It seems like at first glance, it was only useful to those with food allergies, but once looking at it more in depth, it can do so much more. If you are on a modified meal plan, it can help show foods that aren’t within scope or that you may be trying to avoid or have an intolerance to. Including: dairy free, gluten-free, vegan, artificial sweeteners, and even red sensitivity. They claim there are over 2 million matching products in their database. You can search for items (including what stores provide them), or simply scan the barcode of an item before deciding to purchase. There is a monthly or annual subscription, as well as a premium version that shows what you can eat at certain restaurants.

Download it on the App Store or Google Play