I can't recall whether Bill Gates uttered "I'm not a hardware kind of guy" in public or a private interview. In a search of the Microsoft site and Google, Gates frequently said he was this guy or that guy - an Elvis guy or THE guy - but I could not find his prophetic quote which I recall he said about 12-15 years ago. But his sentiments echoed the common belief that software is more precious than hardware. Few would disgaree. After all, there's been a software industry for forty years. Going as back as far as the mid-eighties companies bailed from the hardware busy to focus on the more profitable. The message? Software does the work, creates what users want and is far more flexible and inexpensive solution than hardware whose first syllable says it all - hard as in hard-wired.
Web 2.0 has racheted this notion up another notch or two. And we are seeing expressions of this today in diverse markets - from Apple's forthcoming new iPhone to test and measurement equipment. In the latter category, Synthetic Instrumention promises to make the hardware more generic and the software more powerful and customizeable. In other words, the software performs the testing instead of hardware. Frost & Sullivan just completed a report on the topic in December and National Instruments claims its new Instrumentation 2.0 embraces the concept of Synthetic Instrumention. Indeed, the Army's and Navy's Agile Rapid Global Combat Support (ARGCS) program has focused on synthetic instrumentation for more than two years with promise of saving billions.
Now let's move upstream to Apple iPhone, which addresses many of the shortcomings in today's cell phones. With too many innovations to count, the iPhone redefines the notion of cell phone - thanks to software. It has a full Safari browser (versus the WAP one on my Blackberry, which is slow, and, well, I don't use it); a novel touch screen w/ QWERTY keyboard and an user interface that humbles all rivals, MP3 player, built-in Yahoo and Google search (sorry, Bill), and, of course, video. All the applications are software-driven in that there's you, the application and whatever your finger touches. No buttons - just a 3.5 inch screen and that's where the hardware ends.
Apple doesn't start delivering the iPhone until June so we'll have to wait and see if it works as advertised. But no other company on the planet has as good a record of innovation as Apple. The timing could not be better because my current Cingular (Apple's chosen iPhone partner) contract is up in July. Might be time to re-up and drive a hard bargain in the process.