Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds


In Russia, the central event of the last week was the Sberbank conference, which got rid of the prefix “bank” and became simply “Sberbank”. The event was long awaited and discussed, there was nothing new in it. But the presentation itself, aimed at the mass client of Sber, was remarkable, it did not appeal to the progressive part of humanity in the face of hipsters, young and old professionals at all – too simple, boring, and expected. Behind this “boringness” was an ecosystem that Sberbank is beginning to develop. And I think without irony that the chances of winning today are with Sberbank, and not with any other company. I wrote about this in an article following the footsteps of the presentation.

I admit that I expected more emotional comments, but there was even a grain of reason. I read various notes about “Sberbank”, drew attention to the fact that they hate the largest bank in the country furiously, to the point of oblivion. Many sincerely believe that this is a mutual feeling and the aunt-teller, who got naughty in 2002 at the Sberbank branch, never left her post, but continues to be rude. The stereotype of perception is a dangerous thing and can play an unkind joke on any of us. Moreover, we come across such stereotypes all the time, for example, a person buys a Surface Duo for two thousand dollars in Moscow (in the US, 1 plus taxes) and claims that the device is assembled perfectly, there are no flaws that I described in the review. I am offended and sad, I spend time to meet and make sure with my own eyes that all the flaws are present in full. I point to them. “Oh, that,” the man tells me. – Yes, it’s unpleasant, but it’s Microsoft, you know how I can work in MS Office, the device is the best in the world, and you scold it ”.

I ask cautiously: “You see these cracks, do you understand what they are?” Answers what he sees. But I am unfair in what I write about them, for real buyers it doesn’t matter, they will close their eyes to them. The person feels a little uncomfortable, as the cognitive dissonance in my presence is growing, I make you see flaws in the device, which he appointed the best in absentia. And he did it just like that, because of his convictions. Here is something similar with other companies, someone is bad by virtue of a person’s convictions, someone, on the contrary, is very good. Neither one nor the other has almost never been related to reality. So in this issue we will touch on the topics of perception and how products behave in practice. What they say about them, and what they really are. And I’ll start with headphones from Microsoft. Go!


  1. Straight lines versus smooth curves with Surface Earbuds
  2. nuSIM – nude SIM, other SIM cards of today
  3. Super application – a new life of old ideas on the example of “Yandex.Go”
  4. Excellent book and documentary series about games

Straight lines versus smooth curves with Surface Earbuds

Each of us appreciates the beauty of things that are created in this or that company. Industrial design, like fashion, is short-lived, until recently everyone tried to create things with right angles, and then something changed in the world, and now we are surrounded by rounded, smooth lines. And even those things that, by virtue of their characteristics, should be rectangular, are trying to do this, for example, TV panels are sometimes beaten so that their contour becomes soft, there is a bend. Almost no one estimates the cost of creating a design in straight lines and curves, it seems that the difference is minimal and in no way affects the cost of the thing, its production and how we use it. This is akin to how a person invented the wheel, after the appearance of such a familiar thing as a circle, the world became completely different, distances were reduced, construction became easier. And comparing straight lines and curves, I can say for sure that the latter are advanced technology in the broadest sense of the word.

I was forced to think about these matters by Surface Earbuds headphones from Microsoft, these are the first TWS-headphones that were created by the company’s engineers, and they drew inspiration not from Apple, Samsung, who got their hands on such products, but from some Chinese who lacked understanding of their business …

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

What does the shape of the headphone case tell us? To someone she will not say absolutely nothing, this is another object that will be evaluated by a set of simple parameters – what kind of plastic, how convenient it is to place in the hand, fits in a pocket or not. Lack of experience gives a small set of characteristics, and engineers who design a spherical horse in a vacuum never think about how living people will use it in everyday life.

Look at the edges of the Microsoft headphone case, you can slide your finger over them. The lacquered body is curved, but on the edges the finger stumbles, since here it is straight, there is no roundness of the body, the latter is only visibility. A sharp edge is a place that is exposed to increased stress when it comes into contact with other objects, it has been and always will be.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Microsoft engineers understood this, so the lower part of the case is curved so that the edge does not touch the surface, does not wear out. Although it is possible that they just made the case mirrored, because the top cover is curved. Is the face problem solved? It wasn’t like that. Such a cover will be worn in a pocket, in a bag, it will collide with other objects, and at least with the same phone. And here the facets will fully manifest themselves, they will begin to collect damage.

But this is only part of the design problem. See what Apple or Samsung are doing, the headphone cases are rounded to avoid straight edges. This approach is not only a tribute to fashion, but also a necessity for such a material as plastic, both companies have foreseen how devices can age, and also tested in practice.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Let’s take a close look at the design of the Microsoft case, it consists of three main parts. The central part, the case, which hides the headphone cradle and all the electronics. A hinged lid, as well as a lower part, a kind of case cover. Three parts that form the case with a built-in battery. Simple, inexpensive design, Chinese companies love these options, they are easy for anyone to assemble. The cost of such an assembly is minimal, since there is no need to observe strict tolerances, everything can be done even by hand. Do you know what the minus is? Take a look at the photo.

The bottom part has a slit along the entire perimeter, you cannot help but pay attention to it. Twenty years ago, an elderly Chinese man taught me in manufacturing that a well-designed device with a similar design differs from a bad one in that you cannot see the gap. But if there is nothing without a gap, then you should not be able to insert a sheet of paper into it.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

In everyday life, the slot will collect all the dust from the pockets, where the case will be. At some point, it will acquire a black border.

Microsoft engineers are clearly young, inexperienced and do not know anything about this, it is possible that they have never even been in production, but create incorruptibility without leaving their beautiful offices, without looking up from their computers. The misconception that having learned how to work with programs for creating device design, you can make them of high quality, without trying what you got, and without thinking about practical applications.

Want another example of the inexperience of engineers? They positioned the pairing button on the bottom of the device. The button is not needed very often, for most it is for one time when you pair the headphones and your smartphone or computer. But here it turns out that you need to take the cover in your hands, otherwise you will not press the button. On the other hand, when you open the flip cover for the first time, you get device search and synchronization, no need to press a button. And by and large, you can completely abandon it, as is done in Samsung headphones, the buttons were removed there, since they are not needed. He threw back the lid, and the headphones can be looked for from another device, they are visible.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

The button has the same tolerances as the bottom of the case, slide your finger over it and feel how it moves and makes a sound, scratching the case. A milk tooth that does not fall out, but wiggles slightly.

Studying the case, I understand that my guesses that the engineers drew the design, but did not try it, receive additional confirmation every minute. The shape of the case is such that it is inconvenient to hold it in the hand.

It is very difficult to get the cover and open it with one hand, it strives to slip out of hand. Gloss, uncomfortable shape. Conducted a mini-survey, most people strive to open the lid with their thumb. And it doesn’t turn out very well.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

You have to work with the cover with two hands, hold one, take out the headphones with the other. The principle that guided the engineers was simple – to do it in an unusual way, unlike other companies. It worked, and even with interest. The headphones are fixed with magnets; you cannot turn them over and pour them onto the palm of your hand. A similar trick with magnets is used all over the place and has become a good form. But the headphones themselves must be pry off with a fingernail, they cannot be fired from the socket, pulled out without looking. You always need to concentrate and pay attention to how you take out the headphones. Ergonomics suffers, since none of their creators have thought about how they use TWS headphones. For example, they take a box out of their pocket, open it without looking, and in turn insert an earpiece into each ear. Here the work of thought is not traced.

Want to laugh? Without looking or concentrating on the action, you cannot hide the headphones back. The indentations are made so that you have two positions – correct and incorrect. And no clues!

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

In the Surface Earbuds review, I’ll go over other illogical points in their design, I won’t get ahead of myself. Will pick up even more strange moments in ergonomics, lack of logic. The engineers who designed the device do not like their work, they do not know how to think, and they did it just out of the way. Considering the price for which the headphones are sold, it is triple a shame that this happened at the exit.

Roundness in device cases is not only a tribute to fashion, but such solutions have a very definite practical application: ergonomics are improved (the case does not cut into the hand, does not wear out so much), the device is aging more beautifully. Even from the point of view of falls to the floor or asphalt, a device with curves and no straight edges usually survives the impact much more easily. Many do not realize that the massive use of displays with a slight curvature of the screen on the side edges is not only the choice of designers, but the additional strength of the structure and the glass that protects the display. There may be several caveats here that not all screens behave the same, it is important to correctly design the point of contact between the chassis and the display, so that upon impact, the load from the glass goes to the case, and not all engineers know how to do this. The world of wearable electronics consists of such “little things”, but even in the industry not everyone knows and understands such moments, which can be well illustrated by the example of Microsoft. And in a recent review, Surface Duo talked about the build quality of this smartphone, and everything is also, to put it mildly, ambiguous. Which confirms my thoughts about the skills of Microsoft engineers working on mobile devices. I know some of them in everyday life and I cannot say that they are the greatest inept in the world, there are more neglected cases.

The reason for such problems is almost always the same – the lack of a systematic approach. People are given the task of designing such and such a device, but do not try to imagine how it will be used in everyday life, how other companies solve such problems and why their devices look the same and not different. Ordinary human curiosity can give an understanding of how the world works and what can be improved in it. But you need to have a bit of curiosity and be able to ask the question why everything is arranged this way. And then look for an answer.

Curved lines are always more difficult and expensive to manufacture. But often a different design effect is achieved, a fundamentally different case strength and additional features. I hope you can take a different look at wearable electronics, keeping in mind what I told you above.

nuSIM – nude SIM, other SIM cards of today

The general public is discussing the emergence of eSIM, the technology seems to be a breakthrough into the future, although in almost five years of development it has just entered the wide market and appears in a variety of devices. I often hear that not only smartphones and tablets, modems in cars will soon get rid of physical SIM cards, but the same fate will befall smart devices. I share this opinion completely and unconditionally, since there is no need for a piece of plastic with a microcircuit, everything can be implemented virtually inside the device. But I cannot support those who claim that eSIM is completely ethereal, because this card has its own physical representation.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

The first eSIM modules took up 6×5 mm space on the board, this is exactly what was in the Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch in 2016, this is the first example of using eSIM in a commercial device. Someone uses comparable modules today, some companies have switched to the next generation, which has become quite miniature. But it is impossible to argue that eSIM does not have any hardware, rather there is no physical card in the eSIM, but there is memory for storage. In the same way, eSIM inherited all the capabilities of a regular SIM card, working with Java and storing operator profiles.

In smart devices, for example, sensors of something, using SIM cards looks like an expensive pleasure. Therefore, for home use, hubs are created, sensors are connected to them using one or another radio technology, and only then the information goes to the cloud, including through the cellular network (here we need a SIM card). But for many application scenarios, cellular communication is impossible. For example, a lighting mast or traffic light can report a malfunction, a burned out lamp. And for this they need a cellular module. There are tens of thousands of such devices in the city, the use of ordinary SIM-cards adds their cost, but eSIM gives convenience, but does not reduce the cost in some critical way. The next obvious step in the development of SIM-cards and their reduction in price was their installation into the cellular modem itself. It sounds logical and simple, as the SIM card becomes part of the entire system, but this is contrary to the business schemes that exist on the market. Operators control their customers with SIM cards, they distribute them themselves, which is part of their business. Many operators have always opposed eSIM, since the latter make it possible to instantly load a SIM card of another operator and start using its services. Without a tedious trip to the store or anywhere else. Fighting progress is pointless, and the same operators felt it the hard way.

ARM has been developing the iSIM standard (i is an abbreviation for integrated) since 2018. The only difference from eSIM is that the card is embedded in the SoC and becomes part of the system. A gain in cost, in energy consumption, which is reduced by 90% (the figure is very beautiful, but crafty, since eSIM also consumes a little). There is no physical representation of the iSIM card, this is the same SoC that you will install anyway. Inside ARM, the iSIM technology has been developed for a couple of years, but it has not come to practical application, they promise that the first solutions will appear in 2021, and there will be integration with manufacturers.

T-Mobile could not defeat eSIM, so they decided to lead the movement and developed a new type of SIM card, called nuSIM (reads new, that is, a new SIM card). This is a proprietary T-Mobile standard, in which a regular SIM card has been stripped naked, removing all features. No SIM menu, no SMS support, and operator profile takes only 500 bytes! It is not possible to update the nuSIM profile over the air, the card must be installed during the production of the modem. First of all, nuSIM is focused on smart devices that must work for a long time on one battery, do not transmit a large amount of data (T-Mobile cites city garbage cans as an example, which informs their status – full or not).

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

T-Mobile partnered with Qualcomm to integrate nuSIM for modems used in IoT devices. Last year, Huawei used nuSIM for the same purposes, but it is also a project for this operator. Let me emphasize that the standard is not open at all, it is controlled by T-Mobile and plans to use it on its network, maybe promote it for other operators. To what extent the standard will appeal to other market participants, the question, I think, will sooner hear about the active development of iSIM from ARM, if the company remains independent. SIM cards and their standards require adherence to standards, openness and transparency. And the players that pull the blanket over themselves, create closed systems (nuSIM is just that), will not be able to distribute such SIM cards outside their usual markets, it is unlikely that other companies will support them.

The frontier for developing new technologies for SIM cards is who can create publicly available, transparent specifications for embedded in hardware at the SoC level of SIM cards. Previous experience shows that this will take at least several years. In the meantime, in troubled waters, each player is trying to do something of his own.

Super application – a new life of old ideas on the example of “Yandex.Go”

Sometimes it seems that the number of ideas in the world is strictly limited and the same things are trying to apply to something else over the years. At the dawn of the development of the Internet, the key idea was portals, a kind of sites on which links to services and other resources were posted. For example, for many years, the AOL site was the entry point to the Internet for many people, they drew information from it. Today, such an entry point for many is the search engine from Google, since, in addition to the usual reading of news and articles, people are looking for information on the Internet. The idea of ​​portals was gradually thinned, until the value of such resources became minimal. It’s hard to believe, but at the dawn of the Internet, the number of significant sites was so small that everything could be listed from memory. In Runet, they even drew a site map, they were all placed on a rather small sheet of paper, several dozen resources working in a new space at that time.

The new life of the old idea was found in applications, when different services are combined under one header. In Russia, such applications are created by operators, to some extent their approach is justified, the Yandex.Go application has recently appeared, it combines the most popular services of the company – taxi, food, shop and others.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the very idea of ​​such a union. We can say that from Yandex I only use a taxi from the listed services, sometimes I order food. Having a bunch of services in one place will not involve me in the company’s ecosystem any more. Other services are superfluous in my case, and it would never have occurred to me to install them on my device. It is possible that the company inflates the number of installations of such services in order to get a nice figure. But there is no way to involve me as a user in this story.

When Yandex.Go appeared, a lot of laudatory articles were published about how convenient and good it was. With ecstasy I read the raptures of different people who could not live with separate applications, and now something happened that they dreamed of, not even knowing that such happiness is possible on earth. As a rational and simple person, I refrained from enthusiasm, as I wanted to look at the work of Yandex.Go in practice.

The first thing that confused me about the new application was the disappeared section with promo codes and discounts, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t waste time talking with the support service, it doesn’t matter. It’s not that I’m scouring in search of discounts on the same Yandex.Food, but sometimes I order something through them or in Yandex.Lavka, when in the morning I’m too lazy to go to the store for milk or some trifle (technologies spoil us) … In the night I once ordered a fumigator, as an unimaginable number of mosquitoes appeared out of nowhere. The fumigator was not delivered to me, but the other part of the order was present. The courier went to the Moscow address in the Bryansk forests, did not appear for an hour and a half. I had to contact support, the courier was tracked down, and he arrived ten minutes later. It turned out that there was no fumigator and therefore they did not want to go. I took the package with the rest of the small things that were not important to me. I wrote to the support service that there is no fumigator and it would be nice to return the money.

And you know what? I was offered a discount on the amount of the fumigator! It is not superfluous to say that this is not very convenient. Apparently, the support service at some point realized on its own that it looked strange, and sent an additional code for a 10% discount. Yandex.Go has a section called “Discounts”. But you shouldn’t look for discounts there that you have. They are simply not there.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface EarbudsSpillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

These discounts are safely saved in the Yandex.Food application.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

My discounts are happily disappearing, as Yandex makes special efforts so that they do not become an eyesore. In normal applications, discounts are pulled up at checkout, you are prompted to choose them. Immediately they are specially buried so that you do not remember about them. Which I am doing safely. A trifle, but a good characterization of the whole approach.

Since Yandex is an aggregator and in fact is not responsible for almost anything, overlaps occur constantly. I just ignore most of the overlays, I do not contact the support service, why should I save up these codes. But sometimes the situation is such that you have to contact, for example, the ordered car stands still and does not go anywhere or goes on a trip without me, the application happily indicates that I have so many minutes left to go.

In Yandex.Go, the idea was to create an ecosystem of Yandex products, you could use everything that the company offers in one place. And here will be a clear example of how everyone sees it inside the company, how it should work.

Last week I got bogged down between appointments and calls, had no time to eat. I ordered a taxi and drove home. On the way, I decided that I would order myself a pizza and have a snack before the next call. I figured in my mind that the pizza would arrive at about the same time as me, and went to the Yandex.Go application to carry out my plan. It was not so!

The logic of Yandex developers is very simple and unpretentious – one service per unit of time. And if you are taking a taxi, then you do not need any other services of the company. There is simply no menu for ordering food, it is not. You can be shown a story in the form of pictures, how cool it is to order food in Yandex, but there is simply no way to order. Enchanting people, I can’t say anything else. I had to put Yandex.Food on my smartphone to order pizza in this application. And what kind of integration of different services can we talk about? They all piled up in one heap, in one shell, and did not even bother with the minimal integration of services. And it turns out I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand this.

A few more impressions from Yandex.Go. I don’t know who created this “super application”, but something was tricky with the GPS coordinates. When calling a taxi, it used to happen that the coordinates were determined incorrectly, but this was more the exception than the rule. Now it always shows my location anywhere, but not where I am. This problem is only in this application, it is not observed anywhere else on a smartphone. It takes 15-20 seconds, and the coordinates are picked up, you can order a taxi.

Another point related to coordinates. Now calculating where to go to get in the car has become intricate. You stand by the road, and on the map you see that you have to make strange gestures to get to the car. For example, cross a busy highway, go down into the passage and then get exactly where you are standing, and the application sees you right here.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

It happens? Undoubtedly. But the feeling that “Yandex.Go” was created in some haste and to the words from the song “I blinded you from what was.” So “Yandex” will definitely not build a bright future. Judging by our survey on the Telegram channel, there are not so many of those who liked the super application in the total number. The sample is not representative, but still. The survey can be found here.

Excellent book and documentary series about games

Not so long is left for us to walk free, so it’s time to take care of buying books and selecting serials for subsequent consumption within our four walls. With great pleasure I swallowed Gareth Powell’s little book “The Embers of War”. Space opera at its best, calm, somewhat ironic. The book has just been published in Russian translation, and its quality is captivating, retained the mood, which is important. There are no inaccuracies and flaws, you are not distracted by them, nothing hurts your eyes.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

This is the first book of the trilogy, the second and third are also there, the cycle is over. When a translation into Russian appears, it is difficult to guess, but books in English are available and easy to read. This is the author’s corporate style, it is easy to recognize the British, the dialogues are so good, something from the books of Agatha Christie in modern style. I feel that I’m now being bombarded with tomatoes, but this is about the language itself, the construction of phrases, immersion in dialogues. You will probably have other associations.

The plot of the book is traditional – you need to save the world in the Universe, humanity is at enmity, the team of a former military cruiser is accidentally drawn into this conflict. Many things are spelled out schematically, which should cause rejection, but in this book it looks organic. Other authors would be able to inflate these events in half in comparison with Powell, and somehow I even like it. I can’t call the book perfect in all aspects, but it’s definitely enough for one or two nights. The aftertaste is pleasant, but you definitely shouldn’t expect much, reading to relieve your brain.

To counter this book, here’s the Netflix documentary High Score. This documentary examines computer games, how they were created, influenced you and me. For me, this series is filled with a sense of nostalgia, as it flashes familiar interfaces of games that I once played, if not all day long, then long hours. I advise you with a light heart, he not only raises memories, but also gives new facts about how the industry was created.

Spillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface EarbudsSpillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface EarbudsSpillikins # 609. Direct lines in Microsoft Surface Earbuds

PS Time is running inexorably, please be careful, watch your health and loved ones. It is unpleasant that not only did it not end, but that it is gaining momentum and repeating itself at a new stage, when it seems to many that the danger has passed. Good luck in all your good deeds and undertakings. Take care of yourself.

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