Pragmatic 29: You Can't Fight Physics

15 July, 2014


The Surface Pro 3 claims to be the best of both a laptop and tablet experience but in trying to compromise for both, new issues about its optimisation for either use case become evident. Myke Hurley joins John to dissect the Tablet Laptop category.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. This episode is sponsored by LIFX. Visit LIFX spelled L-I-F-X dot co slash pragmatic. For more information and to take advantage of a special discount off their amazing LED smart bulbs exclusively for pragmatic listeners. I'm your host John Chidjy and I'm joined today by guest host Mike Hurley. How you doing Mike? I'm very good sir thanks for having me back. Well thanks for coming back much appreciated. The daylight saving episode was a lot of fun so I thought it might be nice to to get you back and talk about something else that I'm not sure whether you find this as irritating as I do but this is I want to talk about tablet laptops. I'm pretty sure that there aren't many topics that you could throw at me that I would find more annoying than daylight savings time anyway. Okay fair enough well the thing is when I said tablet laptops you do you know what I'm sort of referring to when I say tablet laptops? As in it's a tablet and a laptop? Yeah pretty much yeah. That was sort of like the yoga. You're familiar with the yoga pad? I think it's Lenovo. The one that like is it spins around and all the strain. Yeah, that sort of stuff. Yeah, the idea isn't new. It's been around for a decade or more where you had reversible, you know, like a computer with a usually a resistive screen at that point and you know, you flip the keyboard out of the way and these things are mechanical nightmares because you know, the hinges would break and you know it would all run Windows which was also a tragedy but there you go. These were Microsoft's first foray into tablets. I remember this this will maybe kind of put it into perspective for podcast listeners I remember like a before number 10 episode or something like that of the show and they were recording a video live from a bar and Leo had bought himself a Windows tablet and was using that for the show and he was talking about how much he loved it but then by the end of the show everyone including him was kind of saying how terrible it was and obviously this was way before the iPad were like 2005 or something like that so yeah and like twits up to like it's in like the 300s or something insane now probably so yeah yeah I remember it's been going a while yeah Yeah, you're right, they have been around a while and all of the geeky, geeky people are saying, "Oh, these things are fantastic." But Apple looked at it and they shook their head and said, "No, we don't think that's going to work and here's an iPad." And they only made the keyboard for it for the first model and then they never made it again. So they clearly decided that the idea of a tablet like a laptop is just not going to work. The thing is it goes back and forth and I've seen people debate this and I wrote an article about this about a year ago and it's linked in the show notes called "Tablet Laptops You Can't Fight the Physics" and I guess I just wanted to do an episode of Pragmatic that addressed that in actually a lot more depth than I did in that article. So we'll see how we go. So alright, obviously, or perhaps not obviously, I want to tackle this from two use cases. So there's the laptop use case and there's the handheld tablet use case. But the same principles I'm gonna talk about will apply to both cases, just in different ways. So I've got to put my hand up and first of all, state that I have not used the Surface Pro 3. They are still relatively new. And whilst I am gonna refer to the Surface Pro 3 during the show, it's not specifically about the Surface. It just, the Surface is simply the latest example of a company, a big company trying to push this idea. And the idea hasn't done so well. And I'll just give you my theories as to why, but anyway. But I have played with the Surface 2 and that was a few months ago. I had a friend at work that had one and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. And I also messed around with them in different shops over the last year or so. And yeah, so I have played with them. So, you know, I've got a bit of a handle on it but not the Surface Pro 3. So I've got to put my hand up and admit that up front. - Yeah, I've done the same. Like I have played with a Surface Pro 3, but just in like a UK equivalent of like a Best Buy. So I wouldn't really call myself even nearly like an authority on the subject. - Yeah, and I guess if that sort of thing is an issue, then stop listening now. But the bottom line is that this is not specifically about the software that runs on it. This is just purely about the hardware and the physics. That's all I'm interested in. So in many respects, it doesn't actually matter all that much. But anyway, so we'll get to that. Okay, so first of all, again, just to refresh the memories of people. I'm actually I'm an electrical engineer. I'm not a mechanical engineer and almost everything I'm going to talk about in this episode has to do with mechanics. So my first year of uni I did we covered statics and dynamics actually, I think dynamics was second year because we needed some of the more advanced mathematics to do the dynamics And I hated them as a subject. I hated both of them. I did kind of okay at them, but really I was glad I was doing electrical engineering at that point because it bored me to tears. That said, it's sort of stood me in good stead over the years because that little bit of knowledge has sort of helped a little bit. And oddly enough, I never would have thought when I was learning this back 20 years ago that I'd ever be talking about it. But here we go. Okay, so have you ever heard of anything called a turning moment? No, okay, cool. It's a bit of a weird name actually. When I heard moment, I thought instantly of the Day of the Doctor, you know, yes, because that that big box that he uses to, it was going to use to destroy everybody. You know, it was called the moment. So I thought, Oh, turning moment. Oh, that's kind of cool. And now it's not a box that can destroy stuff. So anyway, Maybe laptop PCs are the boxes that can destroy things. - Destroy your will perhaps to live, but yeah, it's after a long, give it long enough. They're not that bad, but yeah, okay. I know, I know what you're getting at. Okay, so turning moments are also referred to as a moment, a moment of force and torque. So the bottom line is that you have a load, you have a fulcrum, which is also referred to as a pivot point, and you have force. so the force that you're applying. But essentially a turning moment with the word turning probably gives it away. It's about an angular twisting force. So if I'm pushing up against a wall with my hand, that's a linear force, I'm pushing against that wall. But if I'm turning a doorknob with my wrist, that is an angular twisting force. And the measurement of that force is what's referred to as a turning moment. So why am I going on about turning moments? Well, if you consider a tablet without a keyboard and sitting in your hand on the lower edge and you're using your fingers to sort of prop up the back of it, so you're holding it up towards you, facing you. That's gonna be a lot easier if it's lying in your hand and landscape along the long edge versus along the short edge, because, well, it just, I'm gonna say it just is, but for reasons that'll become clear in a minute. So if it's on its long side, it's not as tall, and therefore, when you're sort of resting the palm of your hand, you're propping it up with your fingers behind it, the actual amount of turning moment pushing against your fingers, that's going to be significantly less, simply because of the height. So the whole idea of a turning moment is that if you have, I don't know, just think of a ruler as the simplest way of doing it, a rule, sorry, rule, ruler, got pulled up on that too, and you want to turn, you want to actually push one side of that ruler down, god this is such a bad example, I'm trying to think of a better example, a seesaw, there we go, Seesaw, North Americans call it a teeter-totter. You know what I'm talking about in the playground? - Yeah, I mean, we call them seesaws, but yeah. - Cool, okay, cool. So for our North American listeners, teeter-totters. And as opposed to tater tots, which is something completely different, but anyway. Nevermind, I don't know why I thought that was similar. Anyway, so the idea is you've got a pivot, but it's right in the middle. So it's perfectly balanced. You've got an equal amount of weight distribution across that plank. And as you push on one end, Because it should be well balanced, it takes very little amount of force in order to push down one side. If you're pushing from the end. If you walk towards the middle where the pivot point is and you try and push down, it takes significantly more force in order to actually push that swing, that teeter-totter, that seesaw, to push it down. And that's simply because the distance that you are away from your pivot point will proportionally reduce the amount of force required to move what it is you're trying to move. So when it comes to weight distribution, if you're using a tablet laptop as a laptop, then you're propping up the tablet and it's the mass distribution within the tablet is all within the tablet and there's hardly anything within the keyboard. So the keyboard is relatively light, the tablet is relatively heavy. So what that means is that it's pivot point, which is the join between the keyboard and the tablet itself, that pivot point is going to want to tend to fall backwards, all forwards, because, well, mainly backwards, because you want to tilt it backwards to look at the screen. If you're looking down on your lap, or if you're on a desk, 'cause you're up and above it, you need to tilt it backwards slightly. And what's going to happen is because that weight distribution for a tablet is designed for a tablet, sitting on the desk like that, it's going to want to fall backwards. So you've got to prop it up. And it's going to try and, before I go any further, got to talk a little bit about center of gravity. So the idea of the center of gravity is that if you perfectly balance something and you have an equal load distribution within, within your within your tablet, let's say your rectangular box, there is a point usually roughly you would hope in the middle of the back where if you prop it up on your finger that it'll balance beautifully and that and the center of gravity is simply, you know, all about well, all of the different corners and all the different parts of the tablet are falling at the same rate therefore all of the individual forces cancel out to give you a turning moment of zero so the idea is that you can balance it on center of gravity on a point and usually you want that to be in the middle of the device but if you're propping it up on one edge and you've got an even weight distribution then your center of gravity is going to make that one of four backwards because yeah it's not balanced so that's the gist of where we start with turning moments and we'll come back to them later. So let's talk a little bit about the weights. And I wanted to compare it to an 11 inch MacBook Air because if you look at the Surface Pro 3, the screen on the Surface Pro 3 is up to, I think it's about 12 inches now. Whereas if we look at a MacBook Air, we'll go with the 11 inch MacBook Air because it's closer in physical size, although the screen is slightly smaller rather than the 13 inch but in any case the point is that starting to compare and contrast some of the differences you know the service pro 3 does not have a full-size keyboard the 11-inch and MacBook Air does have a full-size keyboard in other words the keys are exactly the same size as you would get on a desktop keyboard the same spacing everything whereas the service pro 3 is not quite there it's close it's subtly it's a little bit more cramped but it's not too bad even so it's not technically full-size quote-unquote full-size but it's a close enough for comparison so you put them next to each other gonna be very similar and dimensions. So I did a lot of digging to try and find out the individual weights and surprisingly hard to find actually. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places. If any listeners know the actual numbers of the latest model please tell me. But I could only find 2008 MacBook Air screen weight. And when I say the weight of the screen I mean specifically the removable component that is the screen. So, and I think I got this one from iFixit. And the 2008 MacBook Air screen weighed 465 grams. The total 2008 MacBook Air weighed 1360 grams or 1.36 kilograms. So what I've done just for the purposes of this comparison to compare it to the current 11-inch MacBook Air spec, and I realize that this is a little bit fluffy but oh well, I've assumed that the ratio of weight between the screen and the base of the MacBook Air has remained the same such that now the overall weight of the MacBook Air is down to 1080 grams or 1.08 kilograms therefore a proportional reduction in the screen weight should be around about 370 grams. Whether that's actually correct or not it probably isn't going to be exactly right but it's close enough for the purposes of comparison. Okay now on the Surface Pro 3 the tablet itself weighs 800 grams. The keyboard itself is 255 grams and I'm basing that again because oddly the information for the for the keyboard is not out there that I could find. So I've gone based on the fact that it seemed very very similar to the Surface Pro 2 type 2 keyboard which you know information is out there. So that 255 grams is actually the Surface Pro 2 type 2 keyboard because I couldn't find the details for the third generation one. I mean any differences between these models is going to be minimal at best anyway like you're going to be looking at tens of grams at the very most I think for differences between these model revisions. Yeah absolutely. Basically I think for the for the sake of just comparison the the actual individual weights of model to model I don't think is too much of an issue. Yeah, yeah, nailed it. Absolutely right and completely agree. I just want to make sure that I'm honest and upfront though where I got the numbers from, unless people will come back and yell at me, which they may do anyway. Because someone will have the numbers, you know. Oh yeah, someone's gonna say, "Oh no, that's not 255 grams, that's 256.3 grams." I'm like, "Ah, damn it." But anyway, so yeah, but you're absolutely right, Mark. And for purposes of comparison it's close enough. So the overall mass of a Surface Pro 3 with its accompanying Surface Pro Type 3 keyboard or thereabouts is 1055 grams or 1.055 kilograms. So when you compare that, that's within 25 grams or thereabouts of an 11 inch MacBook Air. So I think that they are very equally comparable. So not just in the size of the screen but the size of the keyboards they are essentially you know here's Apple's laptop and here's Microsoft's laptop oh by the way you can also pull the keyboard off and make it into a tablet and that's their pitch it's both we can give you both. So let's just quickly look at pricing it's also really similar because you can get a Surface Pro 3 for the model that I looked at I think was the entry level I think was $979 I think $150 for the keyboard brings it to $1,129 that's US of course and the 11-inch MacBook Air is currently sitting at $1,099 so that's within $30. So within about 30 grams within about $30 so it's all very very close and that's why I specifically chose that model because you know they compare nicely. But if you have a look now that we've gone through all the numbers and think about getting back to the turning moments and the pivots and everything. So with the Surface Pro you've got 800 grams of mass that you're trying to support and all you've got as a counterweight on the bottom is 255 grams. So that's if you haven't managed to get that to connect and you had a very stiff hinge on it like they've got on the 11-inch MacBook Air or any of the MacBook models for that matter, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and they will have a friction fit hinge such that it has enough friction in it such that you can lift it up with a little bit of force but then it will hold in position. And it can do that because the screen only weighs about 370 grams and the bottom of the laptop weighs more like about 700 grams. So there's clearly far more weight in the bottom than there is in the top. Whereas with the Surface Pro, it's the other way around but it's even more exaggerated. So they have no choice, they have to have a kickstand. So the kickstand then of course supports all of that, the desire for it to push over. And that then creates a new problem. It works fine on a desk. It works fine on a flat surface. When I say fine, I mean it works okay. How adjustable it is is debatable whether or not you're comfortable with it or not, but it works. It's less adjustable in the angle than the adjustment you would have on any laptop. Because laptops are essentially got an infinite number of angles of adjustment within the viewing range based on the viewing angle of the screen. So you could argue that you could put it anywhere from only creaking open by about 20-30 degrees all the way to as far back flat as it could go for different viewing heights. And that's very handy on a laptop. But you don't have that luxury with a Surface. And that kickstand is the reason why, because they've had to put the kickstand in because there's simply not enough mass in the base. If they had a friction fit on the hinge it would simply fall over because once you got past just past vertical maybe 10 degrees past vertical the center of gravity would pull the whole thing backwards so you'd never be able to reach a good viewing angle for the screen without the kickstand and the problem that that creates then is I want to use this on my lap it's a laptop or at least if you call it a laptop some people you know call them notebooks but whatever you want to call it I guess I'm used to calling them laptops because that was their original use case no one use the laptop on a desk, your laptops were used in your lap. But as you know times have changed, cost has come down, people now take a laptop and they'll plug it into an external monitor, an external keyboard sometimes and they'll use it at their desk, they'll pack it up, they'll take it home, they'll use it at home. And that's my use case right there actually. But the point is that when I'm on the train I will use the laptop in my lap and there are certain meetings that I've been to where there is no desk space because the table, it's a big meeting, there's lots of people in there and there's no room left on the desk for it because everyone's got their laptop but you know you've got yours but you can't use it because there's no desk space left so it's like a meeting room for six people and there's ten people in the room what are you gonna do you can use laptop on your lap now put my hand up and I'll say fine that's a not the most common use case these days however trying to use one of these things on your lap which I tried with a Surface Pro 2 was ridiculous I just I could not get it to balance properly no matter what I tried. And a few reviews that I've read, so far on the Surface Pro 3 there's a subtly different mechanism for which it uses to, for which it uses to, how do I describe this? It's like when you flip it up, part of the keyboard itself also sort of folds back and props up the bottom and lifts that, lifts the keyboard up to create a slight angle with the keyboard. And they say that that sort of, yeah, have you seen that? - Yeah, I have. Yeah, I know what you mean. Now when you do the kickstand motion, the keyboard kind of makes a wedge shape. A slight wedge. - Yeah, that's right. Yeah, it's a good way of describing it. And that, they say, improves the stability. And the few reviews that I've read about it have confirmed that, yeah, it's a little bit better. But ultimately-- - Yeah, like, it's better, but it's still fundamentally flawed. Like it's better, it's just a better version of still not right. - Yeah, so exactly. And what I'm basically getting to, 'cause I don't have too much more to say about the laptop use case. The problem I've got fundamentally is, why would you pay the same amount of money for a laptop that you can't use in your lap? You're essentially saying, well, I'm going to, if that's not my use case, then that's fine. But most people that have a laptop want to have the flexibility to use it in their lap if they want to. And there's another use case as well on a plane. And if some of those table trays, sometimes it's easier to work in your lap than it is to try and work on a table tray. But whether or not you believe that use case or not, because again, you hear different people say, oh, on a plane, I always put it in my lap. Or if it's me personally, I don't actually put it in my lap. I'm on a plane, I always use the table tray. But no matter how you choose to slice it, you are taking a reduction in its functionality. And it's one less use case that you can use it for. So why would you do it? And I guess the ultimate answer is, well, for the fact that it's a tablet and that's the real, you know, oh great, it's a tablet too. But I also have issues now with where they're going with this. 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So onto the tablet use case, I think at this point, and this is where things get a little bit more interesting. I actually did a lot of digging to try and find different studies because there's intuition and then there's actual study. So I can sit, I can tell you, Mike, hey, these big heavy tablets, you know, they're harder on my wrist, you know, like holding them, it's giving me a sore wrist. And you might say, well, yeah, well, duh. And I mean, I think most people would actually respond that way. Not that I presumed that you would necessarily respond that way to me, but still. But feel free to say that right now if you want. - I don't know. - Okay. - I don't know. I mean, 'cause you look at like, what's worse, like holding something or RSI? And is there, what's the difference between, you know, with RSI when using one of these machines to using a laptop that has a fixed position for the keyboard, which is flat to the desk and you've got that little ridge there where maybe the touch type cover is more angled to the desk which might be better for your wrist, I don't know. So yeah. - Okay, well, fair enough. I'm glad I asked actually. So maybe you won't say, oh, okay, kind of done. But no, apparently not. So look, here's the thing. go out there and try and find studies that have actually looked in this specifically for tablets because it's a very different use case and it's surprisingly hard to find but i did find one and it's linked in the show notes and it's definitely well worth a read and they they did an exhaustive study on this but they did this looking at tablets in two size ranges one was between six to eight inches and 10 inches. So the current Surface Pro 3 has a 12 inch screen so it's slightly bigger than the 10 inch use case. And for this we'll get to the the results of that you know in a minute. It's the funny thing is you think it's all about the weight but it isn't all just about the weight it's also about the way that the mass is distributed and because on larger screens it's a longer distance, then that's going to create a much larger turning moment, as we sort of talked about very early on in the show, is that if you have the same amount of weight, and it's approximately, you know, and instead of that weight being distributed over six inch area, it's now distributed over a 10 inch or 12 inch area, then the mass that's furthest away is going to cause more turning moment on your wrist as you're trying to hold it than the smaller tablet simply because, Well, that's mechanics. So, the mass of a plane, any kind of plane, I don't mean like an airplane, I mean like a flat plane, where the mass is uniformly distributed, is sometimes referred to as a lamina. So there's no specific formula that exists to calculate that generically, because it's shape dependent. So if we understand the basics of the, you know, it's a rectangle, it's a rectangular, you know, prism, for the want of a better way of putting it, that's predominantly wide and high and not very deep. So if we make the assumption, and I'm going to make, for all the math that's about to follow, I'm going to make the assumption, I should say mathematics that's going to follow, I'll make the assumption that everything is uniformly distributed. It isn't, but let's assume that it is. So, you know, because the battery is going to be predominantly on one side, and the screen may well be a uniform weight distribution, connectors and so on and so forth it's going to have a different mass. The mass won't be exactly uniform but let's assume it is for the purposes of this discussion. So turning moments are all expressed in in Newtons and Newtons is a measurement of force. So one Newton is one kilogram meter per second squared and if we assume again that's uniformly distributed and we assume that gravity is constant which you know okay it isn't but at the surface of the earth where most of us are located that's 9.81 meters per second squared so we can convert mass into Newtons of force by multiplying that through by the acceleration of gravity. So okay I'm only going to consider force in longitudinal axis I'm not I'm not looking at because technically the turning moments are in two axes or maybe even three axes oh no it's really two axes so you've got the turning moment if you're holding it in the bottom left corner of the screen you're going to have one turning moment which is turning from right to left behind the hand as you twist your hand around in a sort of a clockwise motion and then you're also going to have the turning moment from the front to back as it pushes your wrist backwards. So I'm only really looking at the one that's pushing your wrist backwards but honestly you know it's a simplification and again it's meant to illustrate the problem not necessarily to give you the definitive final "this is the number" of how much forces going into my wrist. So again more caveats because I got to start with all the caveats otherwise people will you know complain and that is it assumes that everyone is going to hold the device in one hand at the bottom. Okay obviously people have different sized hands they have different strengths so a petite person with smaller hands will experience more fatigue most likely than someone who's you know big and surly has larger hands yeah And that's just that's a function of the fact that you know, you know different musculature and all that stuff You know biomechanics notwithstanding Again, not the point of this discussion, but yes, we I acknowledge that and of course a lot of people use their tablets with two hands However, a lot of the convenience of using a tablet is to use one hand I think that's that's still a very common use case and that's the one I want to consider one-handed use Okay So let's run through some numbers because everyone likes numbers. Do you like numbers, Mike? Not really, but I will on this occasion. Oh, thank you. Okay, cool for making an exception for me. Okay, so there are five models I'm going to quickly run off and maybe I didn't need to do five, but I'll just, I will anyway. We're going to talk about iPad 1, iPad mini, Retina, iPad Air, and then we're going to go Surface Pro 2, Surface Pro 3. So the dimensions, because I'm only considering the longitudinal axis, we're only going to focus on the overall maximum height of these or depends on how you want to think about height but yeah I mean the maximum dimension of all of them. So the iPad one is 243 millimeters long and weighs about 680 grams that's the Wi-Fi model so all of these comparisons will be Wi-Fi models because I want to have to compare you know apples to apples as much as possible. apples. Anyway, ding! Oh no. Bingo. Okay, so that works out to about 6.67 Newtons of force and that converts into a turning moment of 197 milli Newton meters. And I say milli Newton meters because yes, milli, it is actually quite a small amount of turning moment. But then again, most of the turning moment calculations are done on things like big buildings and civil structures that everything's referenced in kilonewtons, kilonewton meters. But no, talking about milli newton meters here so yeah but that's okay it's just your little your hand holding it so fair enough huh iPad mini retina 200 millimeters long and that works out at only 65 milli newton meters the iPad air 240 millimeters long and that works out 132 million newton meters so all of the iPads I'm just the iPad one sorry don't naturally assuming higher is more force it's worse for you correct yes absolutely right. So you want as small a number as possible. So the iPad, all the iPads, even the original iPad were all 200 million meters or less, based on the assumptions that I've made based on just looking at that one longitudinal axis. So, yeah, and that's all worst case scenario. So again, I don't think it was designed with that in mind necessarily, but for a comparative purposes, it's interesting, especially now when we compare and contrast that with the surface. So the Surface Pro 2 which had the larger screen is 275 long which is already longer than the previously biggest iPad which was the iPad 1 and that as a direct result it also it weighs 900 grams so it was also much heavier than the original iPad 1 and that obviously therefore works out at 334 million Newton meters which is a good 130 or so 140 or so million Newton meters more than the iPad 1. And the Surface Pro 3 290 millimeters long and that works out at 330 million Newton meters which is almost identical to the Surface Pro 2. So what they've done, the way they achieve that is even though it's longer and it's got the larger screen it's also 100 grams lighter. So you win a bit you lose a bit. So at least they acknowledge the fact that we're going to give it a bigger screen they have to make it lighter and 100 grams is quite significant when you consider the technology. It's you know that's that's quite substantial saving in weight so So it's quite impressive really to be honest what they've managed to achieve. But even so, 330 is a good, you know, not quite double but it's more than 50, it's about 60%, 58% whatever it is more than the heaviest iPad and that hasn't been built in years. So the current top, well I was going to say top of the line model, current iPad model, iPad Air is only 132. So it's more than double the current model for the Surface Pro 3 in terms of the turning moment. So I thought it might be fun because well this I have a strange idea of fun that what would happen if you wanted to achieve the iPad Air's turning moment if that was your goal then how much would the Surface have to weigh in order for it to match it in terms of you know to get the same result of in terms of wrist fatigue just under those conditions and I worked out backwards it Currently it weighs 800 grams for the Surface Pro 3. In order to match it, that same turning moment as the iPad Air, you would have to strip that back to 484 grams. And that's almost exactly, but not quite, the same weight as the iPad Air. So they would have to go, but with a 12 inch size screen on it, display on it. So that's a significant reduction in weight. That's nearly half what it currently weighs, not quite, but nearly. So that's, those are some numbers just to sort of chew on a little bit because, and illustrates the problem, which is that it's not just about the weight, it's about how the weight is distributed and it's about how big this thing is. If you're gonna hold something in your hand, there's a limit to how big it can be. And that's the bottom line. So what Microsoft have done is they've said, okay, we wanna have the best tablet laptop that we can get. People aren't using it so much as a laptop, but we want them to be able to use it as a laptop. So we'll make the screen bigger. But in so doing, what you've just done is you've made it harder to hold and more painful to hold in your wrist. So yeah, it's got a bigger screen, but it's going to make your wrist all much more fatigued as a direct result of that size. Even if you have trimmed back the weight, you haven't trimmed it back nearly enough in order to make it as comfortable as an iPad Air. And certainly the iPad Retina Mini, which is the one I've got. And it's a massive gap to get down that sort of size. And you never, I don't think it's, unless they made it just out of the glass, like the glass was the only mass in the thing. And I mean, maybe someday in the future, they'll be able to get to that point where it's so thin and light and so on, that none of that matters. Or rather the turning moments will be at such a point where they can get it down to 480 grams at a 12 inch screen and all this discussion will be a moot point. But until that happens, if I were to pick up the two of them, I would last a lot longer holding an iPad Air than I would with a Surface Pro 3. So what have they achieved? They've improved the laptop use case by giving it a bigger screen at the expense of its usability as a tablet. So where does that leave us? I guess other than frustrated is it illustrates, I think the problem with this device fundamentally it is a compromised device and Microsoft's had this mantra for ages now Windows Everywhere you know and I just I get this feeling that they're obsessed with this idea of you know we want one brand and Windows Everywhere is the solution to all of your problems and the Surface is the solution to all of your computing needs because now you can have the best of a tablet and the best of a laptop. And that whole idea is just doesn't work because Apple have illustrated quite perfectly with the iPad that you know you've actually can take something designed specifically for touch still make it interoperable with your desktop platform through you know iCloud and synchronizing and you've got optimized interfaces for both of those and it's okay to have more than one device because you can refine and you can make each device specifically so very good at that specific use case that that becomes more compelling than oh I can save a few dollars and get one device that does everything because ultimately you're going to end up with compromises in all of the use cases for that device. You just can't win, you can't fight the physics that's the problem is you know and and I think Apple figured that out. You know Microsoft aren't stupid. I'm not suggesting that they haven't figured this out. I mean, and the thought occurs to me, if I was working for Microsoft, and they got some a lot of smart people working there, they know all this nothing that I've said in any of this is rocket science, it just isn't. It's in many respects, it's almost obvious is putting numbers on the obvious. So why would they continue to make such a product? And that's I just keep coming back to the fact that that has been their mantra. Their mantra is, this is the one device that you need is all you need and I just don't think that that's possible. What are you, what are your thoughts Mike? I think in some instances it is all that people need because you see people just using iPads now right? People that don't have computers and they're able to get most of what they want done with with an iPad and I guess Because if you looked at those same people and put them in a business scenario, then maybe the Surface could win out. But now they've got Office on the iPad, they kind of have destroyed their own competitive advantage. Office was the thing that made the Surface a product that you'd want to get. Because as well, especially if you even look at where Microsoft's going even today, they a big conference going on today talking to developers I think and they're still promoting their like they want Windows apps to run the same on all devices now so they're kind of like it's removing the need for even the Surface to be a full PC because it can just be a tablet and use the Metro interface instead of needing to worry about being a full on desktop PC as well. I think that for me personally, I can't imagine wanting to use a device like that full time because I like to be able to have a laptop and I use my laptop on my desk mainly. But I also like the ability that if I take it anywhere I can use it anywhere. And you know, I watch like the videos like the Verge does when they review these Surface tablets and definitely the Surface 3 looks better than 2 or 1 in the way that it can sit on a lap but you see like David Pierce from The Virgin he taps the top of the the surface and it falls over because of the weight distribution as you said and you know and it definitely looks like they're getting that better and I think as time goes on they'll continue to but there's always going to be science preventing them from being able to wait the thing out properly which is why all of the heavy stuff is in the base of the laptop instead of in the screen of the laptop like that has been worked out a long time ago the thick part is the bottom because then it weights the whole thing to the point where it won't fall and even it does all of that and we're not tapping the screens even but there's an understanding that the centre of gravity needs to be on the base and that's what keeps the thing stable so I am very happy to have an iPad and a laptop in my life. Like I don't even use a keyboard with the iPad. I type on the iPad screen and use like a smart cover. But even then, like the smart cover is even fundamentally flawed in some regards. Like you can't stand an iPad up on the smart cover and try and tap anything on it without having to either be super gentle or you'll knock it down, you know, if it's standing up. And the cover's just free form supporting it. but that's not the like that's not meant to be a constant use uh... system or like uh... angle of the device like they show the smart cover being used there when you're watching a movie or something and it's supporting itself you're not really supposed to then go about and use the device with with uh... a keyboard or even just like that apple don't show it that way and i don't think that they're the intention of the smart cover is to to promote that but that is exactly what Microsoft are promoting with the Surface is to have the case have be attached to this cover for it to stand it up But then you're also supposed to that is the primary use case that is not even just for videos or something That is the primary use case of a Surface 3 is to use the device that way Yes, I think it shows the difference between the two companies and the way they approach you approach these things absolutely and Ultimately, that's the point is that you said just before that the Surface Pro 2 is better than the one and the Surface Pro 3 is better than the two. And so there's definitely an evolution and improvement going on, but ultimately it can never get that much better. And because you can't beat, you can't fight the physics. And ultimately, ultimately, I just wonder how long they're going to persist with the concept. There will be people that say, yes, this is the right thing to do. This is the right way to go. But, you know, the thing is, if you're, if you're working primarily at a desk and primarily the same desk and a lot of people in the offices are, you're already going to have a screen there. So if you're already going to have a screen sitting there, I got like a big 24 inch screen or 22 inch screen, something like that. You know, if you're going to have a screen, you're going to have a mouse to plug in. You're going to have a keyboard to plug in because, well, they're cheap as chips and you probably already got them. So, you know, why would you go to a slightly smaller keyboard that, you know, there's only one of them you can use on the surface. If you're going to like, you're going to choose that one as the attachment. Now, why would you do that? Why wouldn't you just use an external keyboard and monitor? Because that's a, that's a better experience because it's full size. It's you can pick whatever keyboard you want, or, you know, if you're stuck with the company's Dell, you know, keyboard or whatever. but I would argue that that's even a better experience than typing on the type pad cover. So ultimately, if that's your use case, then I don't understand why you would give up what you've already got, which has already been highly refined to work with the track pad on a smaller cramped keyboard, just to say you've got the one device. To me, it just doesn't make any sense. But then maybe I've just been doing this for too long and I'm used to that refinement. And there are a lot of people out there that have got special clicky keyboards that they really like. And they've got these special mice that they really like or an ergonomic mouse or whatever. And people like that and like myself, we see this, we shake our head. But maybe the average person looking at this, I'm not sure what an average person looks like, but apparently they exist. And the average person may say, oh, OK, great. Well, the Surface meets all of my needs. But I would argue that if you sat them down with the two devices, an iPad and a MacBook Air, with all of the different advantages of both of those, that ultimately they would choose that as a solution in the end. And I think that's more the point for me anyway, is that the more you use this stuff, the more you realize that each of them is optimized for a certain use case. And if you fit that use case, then you're going to be gravitated towards the best, the optimum solution for each of those as opposed to a compromise solution for both of those. And yeah, that's it. But yeah, also having said all of that, Mike, I still want to play with one. I'd love to buy one, but I'm a geek. I would say that, wouldn't I? I think that like I look at it and I'm like, oh, I wouldn't mind trying it. Like, and I think that's up, you know, that's just the thing about us. But I would never do it. Like I think that about a lot of devices and I buy them, but I I haven't got that much of an inclination to want to actually buy a Surface 3 or a Surface of any kind. Yeah, I'd like to borrow one. Yeah, I was about to say, like, I'd happily, like, try one out for a period of time, but not more than that. Yeah, that's the problem is I just can't get past that. The lap use case. And I mean, I wonder how many people have that use case. I mean, I don't know if it's even possible to do that on the tube. I'm gonna assume not. I've heard too many sardine tin references and comparisons to suggest that doing anything on your lap, sitting down on the tube during rush hour would be impossible anyway. Could you comment on that? - I think it will be. I see people using laptops on the tube though. Like it does happen. People tend to use those sort of devices on longer trains as opposed to the tube. So if you're gonna be on the train for like 45 minutes to an hour or something, people will pull them out. But those trains are set very differently. They're like the rows of two seats, you know? Two on this side, two on that side. And they've also got little tables on them. So I think those ones are built a little bit more, built a little bit more for that. And also they have like power on them. you can get power sockets, power outlets. But on the tube, you'd never see, it's very rare that you even see somebody using a laptop or something on the tube. - Yeah, I mean, tube's mainly standing room only, right? - There are seats, but the majority of people will be standing, whereas opposed to a national rail train or something like that, it'll be the other way around. There's a majority seated. Yeah, I come from a little country town here. We've only got like one and a half million people in Brisbane. So, our trains are all just, they're more like the National Rail style of train that you were describing, whereby they have more seats for you to sit down. Although you can reach a point when the trains are packed where you have roughly an equal number of people standing and sitting, if you get in early enough, then there's plenty seats and you can play on your laptop. And I tend to get on at a station where a train originates, which means you get your pick of the seats so that the train will come fresh out of the magic part of the train tracks where there are no other people. And an empty train comes up and you're like, "Ah, empty train. I get my pick of the seats." And yeah, that's great. But people further down the line don't have that luxury. And they get on and they look at me working. Neither do you when you're on your way home. Well, the thing is, I'm going to say, and I actually catch it on the way home, I catch a train from its originating station. So, I catch a train that originates from that station. Oh, I thought you meant on your way to. Way to and from. Whoa! I know. I live at the extremes of one of the lines. I live on the Caboolture line, which is, yeah. So, I'm about 55 kilometers out of the city, which is something like 30 miles or whatever that is. Thanks for doing that for me. Yeah, that's okay. I actually didn't know how far it was. Yeah, yeah, about 30 miles. I mean, would you consider 30 miles out of the CBD of London to be a fair distance or is that like nothing to you? Yeah, that's fair. Yeah, that's the journey. You know, that's a real commute. Part of me doesn't like it because it kills so much of my time. I used to have a train that ran Super Express. I used to call it the super express because it would run express past something like 18 train stations. I'm like yes That's awesome I do the whole thing in like 40 minutes on the train Which was great because my commute was like an hour and 10 minutes each way sure, but then Then because there's a not enough bypass lines, so maybe that's another topic for another show But because there's no bypass lines the damn track on the northern segment you end up having to clear the track in front of you of the trains in front of you in order for the trains behind to run express and That creates a big gap and that's when people get you know all shirty and they say well I want to go down four stops, but I now have to wait 25 minutes while we clear out the so an express can run Before we get the next all stations train, and I'm gonna have a big cry about it So then I introduce trains that don't run as Express But they still call them an Express because they're run past five stations, and I'm like well. That's That's just not good enough. So now my commute has gone up to an hour and a half each way So it's three hours of commuting every day, and that's that's a big chunk of my life, and that's when I get annoyed Because I'm at the mercy of the you know of their timetable changes, so yeah Oh, well, I chose to live this far out only myself to blame Mike Maybe if I had a surface pro 3 everything would be fine Anyway, I probably would. I imagine it to improve your life. Absolutely That's not an endorsement or a recommendation But anyhow, okay. Well, I don't have too much else to say on that So I might we might unless you've got something else anything else you want to add we might wrap it up there short show No, I I mean and pretty much I think we're pretty much in agreement. I think it's It's interesting to see how people use these devices at the moment. I think that a A Surface maybe isn't necessarily the best thing because of the way that Microsoft pushed the use of the device. If they sold the keyboard as well, it maybe you wouldn't be able to criticize it so heavily. You know, it's like, oh, it also has the keyboard. But they really promote the keyboard use because also the form factor of the tablet, laptop is in such a way that it promotes it, you know, because it's widescreen. So it has a keyboard attached to it where, you know, you'd maybe say that the iPads are not necessarily made for that. I mean, Apple don't sell their own typing cover or anything like that. So they're maybe pushing less in that route. But because Microsoft are very clearly saying this is how we think you should use the device, I think it opens it up to criticizing in that way. - Yeah, it's a good point and I agree with you. And honestly, if they were to try and push it from the tablet angle, I do wonder how that would go. 'Cause they're saying here is a tablet that is significantly heavier than the heaviest iPad, but it's got a much bigger screen. And that's about all you can say about it. So if you want a big screen, that's great. But see, if they were pushing it as a tablet, as a tablet, then sell a smaller version. - Yep. - Now, if you've got all this lightness and thinness and you've managed to get down to 800 grams in a 12 inch form factor, which is pretty impressive. I will, I've said that and I stand by that, that's impressive. Just imagine what you could do, you know, with an 80 inch screen. You, I mean, that thing could be lighter than a Retina iPad mini, you know, for all I know, if they were to make such a device. But yeah, it is how they sell it is not helping their cause. So be interesting to watch and see what they do next year. I think it's, I'll be interested to see if they backtrack and change their angle of attack. So I guess we'll wait and see. So if you'd like to talk more about this, you can reach me on Twitter @johnchidgey, that's J-O-H-N-C-H-I-D-G-E-Y, and check out my writing at If you'd like to send any feedback, please use the feedback form on the website, and that's where you'll also find the show notes for this episode under podcasts pragmatic. You can follow Pragmatic Show on Twitter to see show announcements and other related materials. I'd also like to thank my guest host, Mike Hurley, for joining me today. And what's the best way for people to get in touch with you, Mike, and your new endeavor? - At the moment, because I am between podcast homes, pretty much, you can follow me on Twitter. I'm @imike, I-M-Y-K-E. Or go to That's - And just for those listeners that don't realize that Mike Hurley is going and starting his own podcast venture. - Can I call it an empire? - Let's see, empire is good. I like empire, we'll go with that. - What's wrong with empire? Empire, it's totally an empire. Okay, great. And it'll be launching very soon. So please keep track of what Mike is up to and there'll be announcements in due course. So keep your eyes out open for that. So also like to thank LIFX again for sponsoring Pragmatic. If you're looking for a great LED bulb that's energy efficient, remotely controllable, colorful and just plain fun to use, remember specifically to visit this URL,, and use the coupon code pragmatic for 15% off the total price of your order. Get in now while that offer lasts. And thanks everybody for listening and thanks again for coming on, Mike. - Always a pleasure, John. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music] [MUSIC PLAYING] [Music] [MUSIC] [Music] [BLANK_AUDIO]
Duration 55 minutes and 46 seconds Direct Download
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LIFX: LIFX is a smart lightbulb that gives you previously unheard of control of your lighting. Each bulb is Wi-Fi enabled, can give you light in whatever colour of the rainbow you like, and is an energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your smartphone. For developers LIFX are running a competition with great prizes please check it out and submit your app by the 25th of July, 2014. Visit and use the Coupon Code PRAGMATIC for 15% off the total price of your order.

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Myke Hurley

Myke Hurley

Myke co-runs the popular podcast network and also writes occasionally at his blog.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.