Is the Microsoft Surface keyboard a big mistake?

Is the Microsoft Surface keyboard a big mistake?

Summary: Microsoft's Surface tablet is an interesting piece of hardware, but the heavy emphasis on the smart cover keyboard has the potential to steer Microsoft's tablet aspirations into the tar pits.

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Microsoft has outlined details of its Surface tablet, unveiling pricing, market availability, and even putting a limited number up for pre-order. While I find the hardware interesting to say the least, what I find even more interesting is Microsoft's insistence on pushing a keyboard with the device.

Should a tablet need a keyboard?

I use tablets a lot. I've written tens of thousands of words on my iPad without the need for a physical keyboard. I find that I can do everything that I want to do just fine using the on-screen virtual keyboard. I have a separate keyboard, a nifty Apple wireless one, but it's something that I rarely use. If I'm going to carry a tablet and a keyboard with me then I might as well take my notebook with me instead. And while I'm at it, I may as well bundle in a mouse to the notebook so it feels like my desktop PC.

Others disagree with me. ZDNet's James Kendrick, mobile tech guru and a regular tablet user, relies heavily on separate keyboards. Kendrick believes that Apple should go as far as to design a thin smart cover for the iPad complete with integrated keyboard.

I disagree.

Image source: Microsoft.

While I have no objections to the idea of keyboards existing for tablets, the problem with pushing them too heavily as a bundle with a tablet is that it gives the impression that keyboards are required, as opposed to being only an accessory that some people might be interested in considering. By showcasing Surface tablets with keyboards Microsoft is in danger of steering the hardware into the tar pits on a number of fronts.

Price

While surface tablets start at a reasonable $499, that Touch Cover that's seen in most of the product shots adds an extra $120 to the bottom line. The hard Type Cover is an extra $130. Not only are these keyboards expensive -- Apple's wireless keyboard is only $70 -- it pushes the whole bundle to $620, which is anything but cheap.

Does that keyboard really justify the $120 price tag, or is Microsoft charging a premium for the keyboard/cover? A keyboard that costs one-fifth of the price of the tablet feels very steep to me and will no doubt others.

A $499 tablet might just be cheap enough to be an impulse buy, but factoring in whether they need that keyboard or not could be enough to put them off pulling the trigger on a Surface.

Heavy emphasis on the keyboard will make people nervous about Windows 8

Microsoft has built the Windows 8 interface with touch in mind. The idea is that the operating system is ready for tablets and touch.

Then why they keyboard?

Again, I can understand a keyboard appealing to some, but it doesn't feel right that it is a core feature pushed by Microsoft. Either Windows 8 is touch-ready, in which people can do what they want to do on a Windows 8 or Windows RT-powered tablet without a keyboard, or it's not. And remember, that keyboard also features a touchpad, doubling as a mouse. That should make buyers -- both consumer and enterprise users -- nervous about just how ready for touch Windows 8--Windows RT actually is.

The stark reality is that you shouldn't need a keyboard for your tablet, let alone a $120 keyboard.

Keyboard seems like the main differentiator, but Surface doesn't ship with it

If they keyboard is one of the core features of the Surface tablet, then why not ship one with each system? Selling the Touch Cover as part of all the Surface bundles -- as opposed to just the 64GB model -- would reduce the overall cost of the accessory.

Deciding whether to go for that keyboard or not could make people stop and think about their Surface purchase, as opposed to buying the tablet and then deciding whether they need a keyboard or not.

The key to successful selling is making the decision to buy as simple as possible. Look at how Apple sells the iPad -- Choose whether you want Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and cellular, then pick a storage capacity.

Simple.

That's how Surface should be sold.

UPDATE: A Microsoft spokesperson has clarified the situation, pointing out that there are three different models, available, two of which come with the Touch Case. 

  • a 32GB version priced at US$499,
  • a 32GB version bundled with a black Touch Cover priced at US$599,
  • and a 64GB version bundled with a black Touch Cover priced at US$699.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Tablets

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Talkback

126 comments
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  • Well, Adrian...

    I never would have guessed you only used the onscreen keyboard...
    not with all the spelling errors, grammatical problems and incorrect
    words.
    Maybe you should use your keyboard more often.
    Hey, lighten up...I'm just having a bit of fun! ;)
    wizard57m-cnet
    • Bit of fun, but valid...

      Touch screens do lead to a greater numbers of errors than button-based ones - you just can feel the difference in keys.

      As for should it cone as standard? Why not? As long as it doesn't over stretch the price, it's be nice to get a bit more as standard especially with Samsung now going fully Apple-styled with their 10.1n accessories. At the end of the day, if you hate it you can just put it on ebay for one of the people who will enevitably loose/pour coke on it.

      As for are the keyboards a good idea? Well it's about image - the fact that surface pro's are very exciting along with their peers, doesn't quite reflect on the rt systems- they don't get full windows and all the bells and whistles. The keyboards are about vrand image - most end users don't understand pro and rt, don't get iOS is MacOS-mini, they just look at the device - it's a unique selling point, and as any tech company can tell you that's worth far mor than having the best gear; only us techie's care about that!
      MarknWill
    • There is another more important distinction

      And that is that the iOS on an iPad cannot reproduce a standard cursor on the screen. iOS is incompatible with pointing devices like mice or game controllers. That's the main reason it's never made sense to use a keyboard with an iPad. The full functions of a keyboard are not possible.

      That is not the case with either the Surface RT setup or Android tablets like the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. Both of these OSes are compatible with pointing devices, trackpads and game controllers. That's a great thing.

      Android is a great OS for tablets and being able to use mice, trackpads, and game controllers only takes it to the next level. The same can be said for Windows RT.

      The iPad and iOS is being left further behind.
      laequis
      • Wrong

        Hooking up a mouse to a jb iPad is trivial. This is because mouse input IS compatible with iOS.
        .DeusExMachina.
        • If you have to jail break an iPad just to get it mouse support...

          ...then you already blew it!
          timotim
          • Irrelevant

            What part of "And that is that the iOS on an iPad CANNOT reproduce a standard cursor on the screen," are you not understanding?
            .DeusExMachina.
      • The iPad and iOS is being left further behind? Not really!

        It is simply a Paradigm shift. Whether it is MacOS or iOS, Apple has always maintained a distinctly different paradigm from Windows. (In fact, the Windows paradigm is much more similar to the UNIX/Linux paradigm than the Apple paradigm is to either one.

        The iPad is not going away but the Windows RT paradigm is going to give the iPad a run for its money!
        M Wagner
    • Not to mention....

      Its not really an issue. At least not likely to be any kind of issue in the REAL world. Even the great unwashed masses of the world who come to purchase high tech products usually have some minimal knowledge and expectations about what they are going to buy.

      That means, in the case of a tablet, particularly these days where tablets now have some history, people will have some awareness that tablets indeed do not necessarily need keyboards. Most people who are out looking to purchase a tablet for the first time will have some at least limited knowledge about tablets, after all, they didnt run out and buy one in the first place, they now are looking; the odds are they learned some things about tablets that intrigued them.

      They will usually ask a question or two. If the sales person is pushing the keyboard and the customer looks put off by the added cost, you can bet even the most inexperienced salesman will be quick to point out that you can get by without the keyboard if it looks at all like its interfering with the sale.

      In the real world, this is how things will go just about every time. And of course, the more experienced buyers already know the keyboard is an option not really required. To say that offering this keyboard/cover as an option that’s made out as a salable feature will somehow have a realist potential to steer Microsofts efforts to properly market the Surface into the “TAR PITS” is ludicrous. If offering up a keyboard/cover as a great asset to the Surface steers the marketing of the Surface into the tar pit, well, that will be a story well worth telling.

      This is one of the stories that the more you think of it from a real world perspective, you wonder how it was ever dreamed up. Its such a weird long shot. Into the “tar pits” indicates to me that something has gone into a sticky quagmire that is not only a real mess, but often impossible to extricate ones self from. Just ask the woolly mammoths of millenniums ago. It indicates a disaster for sales. It indicates a slow black death. It sounds absolutely terrible. I think anyone taking a reasonable approach would probably agree that as seldom as this long shot fear might ever come into play and cause a loss of a sale of a Surface tablet, it would be something so seldom seen as a real world outcome it would be so far away from steering Microsofts marketing efforts into a tar pit it would actually hardly be worth mentioning at all.

      In fact, I would be willing to bet every dime I have that if the Surface does very poorly in sales it will have nothing to do with everyone thinking that while every other tablet can be sold without a keyboard/cover that you must spend that extra money on the keyboard/cover for a Surface tablet. Again, if Im wrong on that, a couple of years from now, a lot of article writers will have some great story telling to write about how an optional keyboard/cover drove the Surface sales into the tar pits. It would be epic in the annals of marketing textbooks.
      Cayble
  • Not according to Loverock Davidson

    Everything that Microsoft does is 100% correct in his eyes.....Just ask him.........
    Over and Out
    • Here we go ...

      ||
      ||
      ||
      VVV
      VV
      V
      Watchmen247
      • You're right - here we go

        time to watch you trolls nervously comment...

        :)
        William Farrel
    • Ya, I think we have all heard enough from Loverock.

      His pro MS rants are long past doing any favors for Microsoft nevermind the image it creates about himself.
      Cayble
  • Is the Microsoft Surface keyboard a big mistake?

    No.

    "I've written tens of thousands of words on my iPad without the need for a physical keyboard."
    And there it is again. Just say it, you don't like it because this keyboard wasn't made by Apple.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • please stop

      Please stop posting here.
      Jean-Pierre-
      • No

        I think I will continue, thanks.
        Loverock Davidson-
    • Who is a loser?

      LOVEROCK...yeah !
      Watchmen247
      • Calm down, SB

        No need to wee in your pants
        William Farrel
      • Seriously dude

        Get a life.
        Move on.
        ackacka
  • Yep.

    I totally agree, this thing is stupid (demos well enough). It's zero travel, so it's no better then the screen for typing. But you're already looking at the screen - isn't this the "best compromise"?

    It's not like Microsoft don't make a really nice keyboard for this (The Wedge Keyboard).

    The ad makes it look like a weird laptop.

    Very strange.
    jeremychappell
    • Totally Strange

      By the time you set this thing up and find a flat surface to put it on, which by the way makes it quite awkward in mobilish spaces, you could have been happily typing away. Even the keyboard accessories for iPad keep everything together as a unit.

      I can just see this type of keyboard being not used more than it is. The more you think about the use case for this the more strange it seems.
      CowLauncher