Has Microsoft legitimized tablets with keyboards with the Surface?

Has Microsoft legitimized tablets with keyboards with the Surface?

Summary: Tablets with keyboards are nothing new. There have been keyboards for iPads and Android tablets for quite some time but not used by many. It's possible the Surface tells consumers that all tablets are OK for productivity with keyboard attached.

Tablets with keyboards 600
iPad, ThinkPad Tablet 2, iPad mini

I have written about using various tablets with keyboards for both content creation and consumption for years. That writing has often generated a reaction that this is not really a solution for productive use. That was largely due to the tablets, either iPads or Android tablets. Then Microsoft introduced the Surface tablet with (optional) keyboard. People on the street are now rethinking how productive a tablet, any tablet, can be when coupled with a good keyboard.

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I have seen iPads with keyboards in public for a long time, although not in great numbers. Lately I've seen an increase in the number of folks I see in public venues happily using an iPad with some keyboard case or another.

I've even started seeing a few Android tablets with keyboards being used in public. This is something I would rarely see until recently. Now it's not that unusual to see at least one Android tablet a day somewhere, and some days several of them being used.

While certainly no scientific measurement of usage it must indicate something is changing. These are regular folks I see, not special interest groups. They are businessmen and women working in public venues with their tablet and keyboard. They are college students who have stopped lugging a heavy laptop around and now work on a tablet with a keyboard.

See also: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 first look | ThinkPad Tablet 2 review

In the short time I have been testing the ThinkPad Tablet 2 I have been using it in various public venues. It has started conversations with some of these folks who are curious about the tablet as it's not something they've seen.

When they hear it's running Windows 8 they often respond with "oh, like the Surface". Microsoft has done a good job of raising public awareness about its first PC. 

I always end up asking these iPad and Android tablet users if they are thinking about switching to either a Surface or other Windows 8 tablet such as the ThinkPad I am using. I have more than once gotten a response to this effect: "oh no, I'm happy with my iPad/Nexus/Galaxy Tab. But I never thought I would find a keyboard useful with it until I saw that Surface on TV. I figured if it was good enough for Windows, it should be good enough for my tablet".

Again, this is no scientific survey but I've heard a similar response to this five or six times in the last two weeks. It's important not to read too much into it but I do find it eye-opening. At least some people on the street are getting keyboards for their exisiting tablets because the Surface ads show them it's useful. Then they discover the same applies to their own tablet, be it an iPad or Android slate.

Microsoft must be happy that consumers' eyes are getting opened by the Surface. I'm not sure it's always what they were hoping for, though.

Topics: Tablets, Android, iPad, Windows 8

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  • The editor has a valid point

    Consumers more and more realize that a full blown laptop is way overkill for what they do. If all you do is just writing a few lines or doing some minor calculations a behemoth like MS Office is way to big.
    I guess that what we will observe is more and more different breeds of devices exactly tailored to what the owner really needs.
    • and yet people are carrying the same weight to a coffee shop?

      People lugging around a keyboard with their tablet means they want the functionality of a laptop (PC or not).

      If someone is carrying nearly the same size and weight of a laptop to the coffee shop, then why shouldn't they have all the functionality of a laptop? Especially if they can get it for similar pricing as their tablet.
  • About Time!

    In my constant search for the perfect Android tablet over the last 2 years or so, being able to use a keyboard with it has been my acid test. I have been trying to improvise a Surface type tablet keyboard combo like that all along.
    • ASUS Transformer

      ASUS's Tranformer line has offered this functionality for Android for a while, in a very attractive package. ASUS even has a Window RT version of their tablet/notebook hybrid if Windows is more your flavor.
  • I don't think anything's changed or will

    Most of the tossers I see with tablet (shiny beer coaster) attached to hip seem to use a regular (afaik) bluetooth keyboard when at home/work (where said keyboards already exist/live/persist) and they flap around with just the tablet all by its lonesome in between.
  • The Dawn of Realisation

    A tablet with a keyboard is really ...
    ... a touch-enabled laptop with the CPU in the screen and the keyboard in isolation.

    Try as all the pundits and vendors might ...
    ... there is no breaking The Laws of Physics: things have to be a certain size for typing, and things have to be a certain size for different forms of viewing (unless you are an inhabitant of planet ZORG).

    What we really want is a modular design akin to drivers: where you plug in screens, keyboards, CPU's, charging devices, operating systems etc. Unfortunately the incumbent vendors are non too keen on that idea, preferring to milk customer factions instead and maintain their profit-driven technology limitations ...
    ... see LINUX, APPL, MSFT, AMZN ecosystem.

    One can always dream (on).
    • Arrogance

      The idea that MSFT have legitimised The Laws of Physics seems to sum up the arrogance of that (and similar) companies.
  • It was inevitable anyway

    Until some other form of user input (at least more complex than the point and click) gets to be as efficient as the regular old keyboard, it was going to happen at some point anyway. What MS did was make the first really good product that addressed the issue. Their product is better than the others because:

    1. It is a direct connect and not bluetooth, which we all know has limitations.
    2. It connects very easily. You don't have to mess with wireless or latches.
    3. It is very thin. It adds very little to the thickness and weight.
    4. It has full size keys which makes it easy to adapt to.

    MS's product was the first to address all of those issues. Other products addressed only one or two of those issues at the most.
    Michael Kelly
    • 1-2-3-4?

      1.I have used a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad for two years and never had a problem. Come to think of it, I have used one with my desktop for 4 years and never had a problem.

      2. My Bluetooth keyboard also connects very easily. As in "I don't have to do anything and it is connected."

      3. The Bluetooth keyboard is also very light. Better, it has fully depressable keys, like a real meyboard. Even better, I have one at home and another in the RV, and an uber thin on in a folio I picked up at Brookstone when I know I'm going to be traveling in business for a week. Also Bluetooth.

      4. All of these keyboards are "full size". The only one that's slightly smaller is the virtual one on the iPad screen. (Even the Brookstone keyboard is edge to edge, while the virtual keyboard can only use the screen real estate, so it is smaller by the size of the bezel. Still quite usable in landscape mode, which is how I'm entering this post, just for fun.)

      Frankly, given the trade offs between (available) memory, price, weight, and convenience, the iPad wins hands down, at least for me. (I have no IT department dictating what I must use, FWIW) Shortcoming is the lack of Office, but otherwise I find no advantage in the Surface, versions 1 or 2. I hope MSFT does better on these other attributes, and soon, or they are going to be left in the dust, and with it my investment.
      • I've yet to see a bluetooth keyboard

        that does not need to be paired with the computer it controls, nor have I seen one that does not need its own supply of power. If you do have one let me know more about it.
        Michael Kelly
      • And for all your touting of the merits of the bluetooth keyboard,

        your post is plagued with spelling mistakes. Nice. Irony anyone?
  • Not legitimized, just highlighted

    Bought my wife the Galaxy Note 10.1 as soon as it came out, with a keyboard at the same time. A nice bluetooth keyboard and she is using it as a Laptop replacement. Advantage is, she also has the stylus to make quick notes for.

    However, I don't think it will have widespread use. The majority of people are content consumers, not content creators. They look at their social sites, make a comment here and there, and read their emails. Very few people really create masses amount of content, and it is only the content creators that would really benefit from a keyboard.
    • At the same time

      Most people do buy some sort of clip on kickstand case to attach to their tablets. Adding both weight and size.

      It isn't to far to replace that with an integrated kickstand and keyboard cover that weights less and doesn't swallow the tablet like the cases do.
      • Kickstand makes it different.

        I love my Surface RT over my other Tablets including VivoTab RT just because of kickstand. The closest to this experience is Lenovo Yoga series.
        Ram U
        • I agree completely

          People obsess so much over a few ounces weight in a tablet, but the majority of users are quick to add the same amount of weight to achieve a form factor that lets the tablet not fight gravity.

          That truly seems to be the evolution of tablets. While they can be held in the hand, people just don't want to fight gravity with 1.5-2 lbs for 10 hours. As soon as the tablet hits a flat surface it negates the weight and frees up both hands for operation.
  • Tablets are excellent for light work on the move

    Nobody need a 10 inch device to read emails or check some messages etc, a smart phone is more than good enough to do that task. Also for long time reading a 10 inch tab is not convenient, a 7 incher is best suited for that. Majority of iPad and android tablets are catching dust after the first month of excitement.

    Surface has changed the perception of tablets, now tablets are devices for both work and play. Because iPads/ Androids runs a toy OS, MS and partners will have a great advantage in the 10 inch market.

    Most android tablets (Amazon / Google) sold are 7 inchers. Also the trend with the iPAd is that most of the iFans will be buying the 'mini' moving forward… MS will also be targeting the 7 inch market with its Xbox-Surface
    • MS screwed up big time

      It can be called the decade of incompetence. How Microsoft missed the mobile revolution, I will never know. I guess it is the same as in 95 when they missed the Internet revolution. But wait, it's not the same. 17 years ago MS had a monopoly and could simply muscle in and take whatever they wanted. The situation is much different now... There is Google, Apple, Facebook to keep Microsoft in check.

      In any case, MS had every opportunity to dominate the mobile phone and tablet market. They have 60000 employees, spend billions on R&D and still they managed to screw it up. You must wonder what are those thousands of people doing all day. I guess all the smart people are working for Apple, Google and Facebook...
      • prof123 screwed up big time (again)

        Do you do ANYTHING other then cry and moan? Boo-Hoo.

        You really should come back to reality one day. You may actually LIKE it here.
        William Farrel
  • IMO, the original Asus Transformer did the real legitimizing...

    ...of having a tablet with a keyboard accessory. The Microsoft Surface and the various OEMs producing Windows 8 and/or Windows RT tablet/netbook hybrids (along with Asus' various Android OS Transformer models) have just taken what was always a smart idea and expanded it.

    Honestly, I never understood why people would want tablets that DIDN'T have an integrated into the tablet design keyboard accessory. The cost-value proposition for 10" tablets without netbook hybrid convertibility just isn't there IMO, unless you play lots and lots of casual games or use a tablet almost exclusively to play video content.
    • I agree

      The original Asus Transformer was a real eye opener for me. Many won't see it until they actually try it, but it really is a game changer.

      I can't imagine having a tablet that didn't have some sort of intergrated keyboard option developed at the original stage of the tablet. Not some clunky 3rd party frankencase.