The Difference Between Hardware and Software


This post is prompted by a question I got on Facebook yesterday. A lady commented that she really loves her first-gen Fire, which doesn’t have a camera, but doesn’t want to have to buy an HD model just to get the camera feature of the HD models. She wanted to know if there would ever be a camera download or app made available for her Fire.

The answer is no, and this lady does not understand the difference between hardware and software.

Hardware: The Physical Stuff You Can Touch

Anything that’s physically built into the machine you’re using, whether that machine is a computer, a Kindle Fire, an iPad, or even a fancy-schmancy espresso maker, is hardware. It’s called hardware because it’s made of literally hard, physical materials. Your machine’s screen, microphone, buttons, on/off switch and camera (if applicable) are all examples of hardware features.

Software: The Computer Code Stuff That Tells The Hardware What To Do & How To Do It

Software is the computer programming that lives inside your machine and passes your commands to the hardware. For example:

When you swipe your e-reader’s touchscreen to turn to the next page in an ebook, it’s the software that’s relaying the message to your machine to turn the page. The software “translates” your finger or stylus swipe into a command to display the next page in the ebook.

When you plug headphones into your machine’s headphone jack, it’s the software that tells the machine to turn off the speaker sound and pipe the sound into the headphones instead.

You get the idea.

Software Needs Hardware To Do Its Job

Without the touch screen, there can be no swiping to turn ebook pages. Without the headphone jack, there’s nowhere for the software to send your machine’s sound when you want to use headphones instead of the speakers. Similarly, without a camera built into the hardware, there’s no picture-taking function for any software or app to control.

Look at it this way: if you were to install a high-end, programmable thermostat in a home that doesn’t have an air conditioning or heating unit, there would be nothing for the thermostat to control.

If you want to know both the limitations and possibilities with a given machine before you buy it, always check out the hardware details (also known as “specifications”, or “specs”). If you were planning to record DVD discs on that new computer, you better make sure it has a recording DVD disc drive built in. If you were planning to use a memory card to expand your new phone’s memory, you better make sure it has a memory card slot built in. And if you were planning to take pictures with your machine, whatever it is, you better make sure it has a camera built in.

So no, there will never be any software update or app made available that can add camera functionality to any machine that doesn’t already have a camera built into its hardware.