embedded software boot camp

A new way to tell if something is an embedded system

Sunday, January 27th, 2008 by Nigel Jones

Periodically someone tries to come up with a definition of an embedded system. For example there is an excellent and oft cited definition here. What got me thinking about this topic is the latest gadget I love to hate – my Verizon Treo phone running Windows mobile. A few years ago, there would have been no doubt that a cell phone was an embedded system. Today, the Treo, the i-Phone etc are all running versions of traditional computer operating systems, and are much more computer like than they are an embedded system. So the question is what are they – an embedded system or a computer?

Well today I offer a new simple test to tell if these devices are fish or fowl (foul is perhaps more appropriate), to wit:

“Is the device a pain in the neck to use?” If the answer is “yes”, then it’s a computer. My Treo is a computer. Enough said!


2 Responses to “A new way to tell if something is an embedded system”

  1. Michael Barr says:

    This reminds me of the best definition I ever heard for the word “technology”: that which is hard to use. When pencils were new they were probably in need of both refinement as well and explanation (perhaps even rife with bugs and user error), but today they are no longer a technology in the sense we use the word.P.S. So my Treo running an OS from Palm must be an embedded system!?

  2. Nigel Jones says:

    You make a good point about the fact that your Palm OS based Treo must be an embedded system by this admittedly tongue in cheek definition. The implication of this, is that an embedded system is defined by its firmware (or maybe its OS) and not its hardware. I think that’s a rather interesting outcome – as almost all other definitions I’ve seen are hardware centric.

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