Firmware vs Embedded Software What’s the Difference?
Digital computing has become integral to our lives, infiltrating everything from smartphones and wearables to computers and vehicles. It’s hard to imagine our daily routines without the software these devices provide. But have you ever wondered how they actually operate? What makes them tick and deliver the functionality we rely on?
In this article, we will delve into two types of software: firmware and embedded software. Both play a crucial role in telling hardware what to do, but they are not developed in the same way. Each has its own unique goals, features, and levels of complexity. Scroll down to learn more about firmware vs embedded software.
Embedded Software vs Firmware Use Cases
The functions and features of firmware vs embedded software are different, even though both operate on hardware. Firmware is responsible for controlling tasks like making phone calls, printing papers, and flying. On the other hand, embedded software adds additional features and services such as cameras, cloud printing, and obstacle detection.
To understand the distinction between firmware and embedded software, let us explore their respective applications in different products. By examining the following use cases, we can observe how firmware and embedded software collaborate to enhance device functionality, user-friendly, and intelligence.
To process the digital high-definition TV (HDTV) stream and generate the red, green, and blue values and the digital values for each pixel, televisions require the addition of microprocessors. Firmware also handled analog-to-digital audio signal conversion for the headphones and speakers. This requires firmware rather than embedded software, while “Smart TVs” use embedded software.
Firmware and embedded software operate on a TV
Smart TVs still use firmware for low-level signal processing tasks. They require more firmware to operate the wired or wireless network interface and interact with the remote control. However, smart TVs also have operating systems, often Android or Roku, and applications that can be accessed directly from the TV or by internet download. These applications, also known as embedded software, greatly enhance the user experience by offering more than just the ability to change channels and adjust volume.
Typically, industrial robots with a single purpose may function using just firmware. Which is responsible for controlling their behavior, processing sensor input, and making decisions accordingly.
Firmware vs embedded software is important for making robots
Now, picture a multipurpose robot with enough sensors and actuators for various tasks. All of its actuators (arms, joints, wheels, and tools) and sensors (cameras, motion sensors, audio sensors, and so on) still need firmware, as do its wireless networking and positioning systems (Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth).
Embedded software gives the robot its specific capabilities, such as those of a package-delivery robot, dog-walker robot, or rescue robot. The same robot hardware uses different embedded software to do various tasks.
Before smartphones took over the globe, there was a specific section for electronic gadgets called MP3 players. We could load up our MP3 players with music and listen to it via our earbuds all day.
Embedded software offers different functions and apps on an MP3 Player
There were just 5 buttons on the interface: a play/pause button, two buttons for skipping to the next and previous songs in an MP3 playlist, and two buttons to control the volume. Compared to multi-purpose gadgets like smartphones, the function of an MP3 Player is rather simple. Everything from the flash memory that stores the digital MP3 files to the high-quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that converts the digital data into an analog signal delivered into the 3.5mm earphone connector is custom-designed.
Both firmware and embedded software may be found in modern smartphones. These components work together to enhance the intelligence, productivity, and easier of use of the phones.
Firmware and embedded software are two essential types of mobile device software
The firmware controls essential phone functions such as making calls, sending texts, and connecting to networks. Additionally, it includes the bootloader, which allows users to change the operating system or use a custom ROM.
Firmware can be updated so that bugs can be fixed or new features can be added to the smartphone. Improvements to a smartphone’s battery life, camera quality, and security may all turn possible thanks to firmware updates.
The embedded software runs on the smartphone’s operating system, such as Android or iOS. Thus, features and apps like cameras, web browsers, gaming, and social media are all created possible. The embedded software operating system is optional and often written in C or assembly. It’s customized and designed to work seamlessly with the smartphone’s functions and features.
Firmware vs embedded software can affect the printer’s performance, quality, and safety
Firmware and embedded software are both included in printers, yet they perform distinct functions.
The printer’s firmware essentially oversees all functions of the printer, encompassing printing, scanning, copying, and faxing. Additionally, the firmware is responsible for communicating between the printer and the computer or network. Firmware updates may boost a printer’s print quality, speed, or compatibility.
At the same time, embedded software runs on the printer’s processor, delivering additional capabilities such as wireless connectivity, cloud printing, ink management, and security functions.
Firmware manages the communication between the drone and the remote controller
Firmware vs embedded software can affect the drone’s performance, quality, and safety. The drone’s firmware sets the drone’s flight, hovering, landing, and return. On the other hand, embedded software, integrated into the drone’s onboard computer, bestows additional functionalities such as a camera, GPS, obstacle avoidance, and remote control.
What is Firmware?
Firmware, a type of low-level software, is a computer program stored in non-volatile memory like a flash chip and executes directly from that location. Its purpose is to allow the operating system to interact with the hardware. Device drivers, operating systems, and applications can access the hardware once the firmware runs.
To put it in easy words, the firmware is like a translator that helps the hardware and the operating system talk to each other. The operating system then adds more features and functions on top of the hardware. In other words, firmware is like the glasses through which the operating system can see the hardware.
Your product’s security is strengthened because the firmware is often designed to prevent altering behavior.
Embedded software is a device’s brain, and it can affect its performance, quality, and safety
Difference Between Firmware And Embedded Software
Firmware is not embedded software. However, it’s just a tiny part of the whole computer software. Without the OS and middleware parts, firmware only works as a one-way translator and can’t do anything without other software layers working on top of it. In contrast, a complete embedded layer stack is the only software necessary for a device to operate properly.
Once functioning correctly, firmware is not often updated as frequently as embedded OS or application software.
Imagine a set of traffic lights to get an easier idea for firmware vs embedded software. It’s green for software, orange for firmware, and red for hardware. The hardest part of updating a product line already in production is the hardware, followed by firmware, and finally, software.
Firmware is a type of embedded software that is stored in a non-volatile memory chip
Firmware is the software layer functioning as a bridge between a piece of hardware and the program running on top of it. PCs, laptops, smartphones, etc., all include firmware. The operating system may or may not be a part of the embedded software that controls the whole system. Embedded devices, such as digital thermometers, cameras, washing machines, etc., often use embedded software.
In conclusion, firmware and embedded software are types of software that operate on microcontrollers or microprocessors. There are differences in their function, complexity, and purpose. Learning the difference between firmware vs embedded software can help you realize the various kinds that computer programs perform. If you would love to understand this topic better, do not hesitate to read more articles from Nexle Corporation!
Nexle is a leading software development company based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We are delivering on the world’s largest, most complex projects to transform the way governments, companies and communities work. We have been developing smart, technology-enabled solutions to solve our clients’ toughest challenges, demonstrating a commitment to excellence and a passion for exceeding expectations. Nexle is well positioned to be a partner and co-innovator to businesses in their transformation journey, identify new growth opportunities and facilitate their foray into new sectors and markets. We’re globally recognized for our innovative approach towards delivering business values and our commitment to client success.