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Is hardware dead?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Let’s unpack the reasoning behind some outlandish claims you might have heard

Chess items, the king and queen
The King and Queen

  • Our attention is shifting away from physical hardware and tokens of exchange

  • Inconspicuousness can be a sign that you have the right hardware

  • The focus on software makes it more crucial than ever to be informed about hardware

Commonly heard in mediaeval times, cries of “The king is dead! Long live the king!” bear an eerie resemblance to some of the slogans flying around today. We’re not talking about recent events related to the UK’s monarch, but attention-grabbing claims made by pundits speculating about the shape of things to come.

Unless we’re living in a holographic universe, it’s pretty obvious that in literal terms, hardware is not dead. But if some of our traditional hardware-based modes of transaction are indeed dying out, new paradigms are rising to take their place. And ultimately, all models and simulations, virtual machines and virtual desktops, are still going to need something physical to run on.

Treading softly with transactions

It can certainly be argued that advances in software -- particularly in the field of AI -- have outstripped some aspects of hardware development. As for cash -- as in, physical currency -- this might as well be functionally obsolete for an entire generation. But that doesn’t mean cash is dead.

Similarly, credit and debit cards are falling from favour. According to a recent report from the Reserve Bank of Australia, mobile wallet payments totalled more than 25% of all cashless transactions at card payment terminals through Q1 of 2022, and this percentage has been increasing steadily. But does this mean plastic is dead? Not by a long shot -- it is just that the way we transact is evolving.

With the advent of email more than three decades ago, there was plenty of talk about it meaning the death of paper correspondence. And yes, many of us now opt to receive paperwork such as bank statements and utility bills in soft copy -- which is great for the environment.

But does this mean paper is dead? Certainly not, if the countless physical cards sent by snail mail at Christmas time are anything to go by. Do ebooks and e-readers mean libraries are dead? No, it just means they have embraced soft options like Libby and Borrowbox to augment their physical presence.

The industry is changing, there is no doubt about that. Yes, people are focusing more on contactless payment options, and the hardware frameworks at the centre of our transactions need to evolve and keep pace.

Does this mean hardware is dead? No -- like other migrations from analogue to digital, it’s evolving. However, we do need to think more seriously than ever before about the evolution and change that is taking place: what are the real, tangible implications for hardware?

Every cloud has a silicon lining

Storing our data ‘in the cloud’ and working online has become the new normal, so it’s no surprise that many of us imagine computing to be insubstantial and vapour-like. However, no matter how clever our applications, no matter how convenient it is for us to transact using a smartwatch, software will always share a symbiotic relationship with hardware: one is useless without the other.

In an age of cloud-based everything, it is easy to forget how essential the right hardware platform is for smooth operation. It’s not unlike the unconscious reliance we place on electricity -- when we flick a switch, we simply expect it to be there.

But think of the end-to-end process starting from the coal, sunlight and wind being converted into electricity, think of the high-voltage transmission lines and banks of transformer stations. Without this complex infrastructure of systems, we would never have the end product we take for granted. Yet as with digital hardware, the fundamental technology involved is often forgotten because all we notice is the service that runs ‘on top’.

Nothing to unsee here

Ironically, the focus on software is a major reason why it’s more important than ever to choose the right hardware. To continue with our electricity analogy, a customer’s interaction with software should be effortless and meaningful. Even though it is at the heart of retail and hospitality transactions, the POS machine itself should vanish into the background. Similarly, in a healthcare environment, the medical-grade EMR (electronical medical record) terminal should blend into the overall treatment setting, as if it’s hardly even there.

But how do you choose the best POS system to ensure such an experience? How do you find an anti-microbial touchscreen to support our healthcare heroes? Under the bonnet, it means understanding the ecosystem and qualification of the total solution. The customer or staff journey needs to be meticulously mapped out, we need to establish the minimum specifications for the software, and whether the hardware is single-task or multiple-task orientated.

This is barely scratching the surface of all the details that need to be evaluated. Add to this the financial outlay, be it POS system rollout, medical-grade EMR or industrial PCs, and you’ll realise that decisions around industry-specific hardware solutions need to be expertly informed and thoroughly thought-through.

Your trusted adviser

This is where Element can help. Obviously nobody is going to think of purchasing industry specific hardware as being comparable to buying a first home or planning a wedding, but in the context of a business lifespan, it is an undertaking of similar gravity.

Element CA850 POS Terminal
Element CA850

Remember that in retail or hospitality, every single in-person transaction will be processed through your POS system -- meaning the right equipment can

save you from innumerable pain points every working day. Instead, the point of sale service you provide can be a little ray of sunshine in every customer’s journey. In an industrial setting, the same should be true of a panel PC built to survive the harshest conditions -- it should facilitate work instead of being hard work to use.

Connected business is the way of the future, so at Element, we are motivated to share our collective experience for the benefit of everyone -- our partners and competitors alike. Monopolising knowledge doesn’t serve the industry, and if we’re not serving the industry, we are failing in our mission to empower informed decision-making.

There is nothing to be gained by clinging to the past -- that ship has sailed, that king is dead. Long live the king!

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