Friday, August 10, 2012

What is Firmware?: Understanding The Mobile Technologies Part-2

This article is a part of the series of blog-posts - Understanding the Mobile Technologies.

If you own a smartphone, (whether a Galaxy Pop or Fit or Ace or R or S Advance, S2, Note, S3 or any iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia Belle, Nokia Anna, HTC One Series, Sony Xperia Series or Windows Phone or any other Phone for that matter) or if your friend owns one, chances are high that you have heard about the term Firmware and Firmware Upgrade. Have you ever wondered what exactly this Firmware is?  Or Why it might be useful for you to to understand it?

This post will give you a brief idea about Firmware, what it is and why should you care about it.

Firmware is the data that is stored in a device's ROM (Read Only Memory) area. Data contained within the ROM cannot be modified so it's only used to carry data that doesn't need to be modified. The instructions carried on the ROM encompass the firmware, which provides an identity to the device and work closely with its associated hardware. ROM being non-volatile, firmware is ever-present data - it won't be lost even if the device is switched off or restarted, hence the term 'firm'. Of course, it does much more than that. Firmware coordinates the various operations happening within the device ( which is why the Mobile OS can be called a firmware).

There are 3 types of these when it comes to Mobile Devices:

  1. Stock Firmware
  2. Manufacturer Brand Firmware
  3. Custom Firmware/ROM
Google's original Android can be considered a Stock Firmware, which sees its own set of updates from the OS manufacturer. Some examples of the Manufacturer Branded Firmware for mobile devices include Samsung's Touch Wiz, HTC's Sense and many more. In these cases the manufacturer has overlaid their own user interface and design over the default Android architecture, giving it a unique flavor. Custom Firmware, though, are fully designed by third party developers.

Custom Firmware replaces the stock firmware, and while it may be Android, it provides an entirely new feel and usually, an upgraded set of features.

However, if it can't be changed, what if one day, firmware becomes a limiting factor? For that matter, if you don't keep firmware up-to-date, there's a chance you could face security lapses, and miss out on improvements to pre-existing features (because like PC Software, no firmware is a perfect launch) or simply not take full advantage of the hardware in your hands.

That is where Flashing comes in.

To know about Flashing, wait for the next article - What is Flashing?

I hope by now you understand What is Firmware. Please let me know your opinion about the article by your valuable comments.

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