Microsoft business 'blades': Thinking outside the Surface consumer box

Microsoft business 'blades': Thinking outside the Surface consumer box

Summary: Microsoft is looking for ideas for a new class of peripherals, codenamed 'Blades,' that can plug into its Surface tablets. What might business blades look like?


Yes, Microsoft is really trying to step up its consumer game -- especially given the fact that more than 55 percent of its business is coming from the enterprise (compared to 20 percent from consumer).


But that doesn't mean all the new fun toys have to be focused on home and recreational use. Why can't business users take advantage of things like the new "blades" that are coming for Microsoft's Surfaces, too?

A quick explainer: The Surface blades have nothing to do with blade servers. Surface Blades are a new class of plug-in peripherals (in touch pad form, at least at first) that will click into the Microsoft Surface devices. Microsoft showed off during its Surface 2 launch on September 23 a Music Cover which builds on the souped-up sensing technology that Microsoft built into its Touch Cover 2.

"Touch Cover2 is basically a really big pressure sensitive touch pad. It can sense your hands, it is super fast (picking up all the transient interactions that happen on a millisecond level)," noted Director of Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group in Microsoft Research, Stevie Bathiche, during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session the Surface team held on Monday.

Bathiche noted that the just-announced Surface Remix Project is just the start of Microsoft's work in this new peripheral/accessory category. As part of the Remix project, Microsoft is making available a Surface Music Kit -- the Music Cover plus related app -- to those who want to use it to make remixed music tracks.

(A quick aside: These new blades will work with the generation one Intel-based Surface Pro and generation two Intel-based Surface Pro 2 and ARM-based Surface 2. But once the new Surface Pro 2 goes on sale, starting October 22, Microsoft and its retail partners are planning to no longer sell the first-gen Surface Pro.)

But what if there were a more general software development kit (SDK) for those looking to build blades that could provide other kinds of functionality, especially business apps/services? I asked the Softies and was told by a spokesperson that Microsoft had "nothing yet" on that front, but they'd let me know when/if there was more to say.

During yesterday's Reddit, as noted by CITEworld, some participants asked Microsoft about doing blades that would let them use touch and/or pen to manipulate Adobe's PhotoShop or do video editing more easily.


Microsoft officials worked with students at the Art Center College of Design, allowing students to try their hand at conceptualizing possible blade ideas. As shown during a Microsoft video clip shown at yesterday's Surface 2 launch, those students suggested everything from credit-card reader blades, to blades that could recharge smartphones, as The Verge noted.  

There also was a suggestion for some kind of blade which would allow users to remove a possibly wearable digital trackpad that could plug into the Surface devices. (See the prototype rendering of that wearable device at left from a still from the video. Thanks @cwoodruff.)

Any business users who read this blog have other possible ideas for business blades you'd like to see Microsoft and/or third-party developers build for the Surface?

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Emerging Tech, Microsoft, Software Development, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • a few immediately come to mind

    Stenographers blade
    Various Custom Excel blades
    Math, Engineering, & Science specific blades
    • Just use a second touch screen

      Why not just provide a second touch (e.g. LCD) screen where you can endlessly customize keyboard layouts, and other touch input surfaces, through software? That would be pretty cool. Users could use Word, Excel, etc. with special customized soft keyboards. Users would have to buy just one touch cover instead of several, and the touch experience would be more intuitive and engaging than using touch covers with cryptic designs.
      P. Douglas
      • why a fixed layout

        No configuration, just snap and go... plus you could get excellent tactile feed back...
        • I still believe a touch screen cover is the best solution

          Fine, then let one of the touch covers MS comes out with be one which includes a touch screen. Such a touch cover would be far more functional and versatile than any group of touch covers. Also, I now see that Point Of Sale systems are all migrating to the touch based variety, which seem much more intuitive, versatile, and efficient. If cashiers can bang all day on touch screens and be happy, I don't see why ordinary people can't do the same on their PCs. I believe if MS presents people with these cryptic layout keyboards vs. an intuitive touch screen based system, it seems unlikely to me that MS's customers are going to take to them well.

          I think MS should test out my suggestion, particularly on kids and young adults, and also on non-power users, and see how they react. I believe MS should just make sure that the soft keyboards are much more functional than their physical counterparts, having great word prediction, auto correction, custom keyboard layouts, easy, intuitive access to ANSI characters in fonts, etc.
          P. Douglas
          • I gather

            that you never played piano. Ergonomics is enough reason. Buttons that actually click is so much better and faster than click on hard surface.
      • You are referring to Courier

        which was one of the best ideas ever from MS. However, in their "infinite wisdom", it was dumped.
        • Yes I am

          Yep, I'm referring to a type of cover that transforms a Surface into something resembling the Courier. Some users could go along with such a touch screen cover and obtain a range of unique, rich experiences from it. Other users could supplement it with a type cover, if they need such a cover to do heavy data input, and they find the touch screen cover to be unacceptable.
          P. Douglas
          • I too was thinking about the Courier idea making a comeback,

            but, my take is that, is should be the Courier on steroids...

            Let me explain...

            MS could create a multi-screen tablet, with thin screens being added on top of the tablet, and each screen being able to be opened as in a real notebook. It would look like sheets on top of the main case, and each sheet would be capable of displaying a completely different application running. The user could just flip his pages to interact with each screen as needed. So, a user could have Facebook running on a page, and a game on another, and Twitter on another, and eMail on another, and Instagram on another page/sheet and Skype on another, etc.

            The new Courier reincarnation could be called "Sheets" or "Pages" with MSN or Windows in front of it.
      • Flexible displays.....

        Is the key....
      • On teh Right Track

        P. Douglas has a very good point...and given that the new Power Cover is a tiny bit thicker than the Surface 2, think second touch screen crammed full of battery - why not...
    • Customisable, Printable Skins You Add on to the Touch Cover?

      What if you could buy a "Skin" - an A4 or letter sized bit of plastic which can be printed and then attached to the surface of a touch cover? Cut along the dots so it fits perfectly.

      Then software you buy (music, art, toy helicopter controllers, etc) would includes a printable touch cover layout, matching what the software expects. Buttons, sliders, pressure points - you name it. Print it out, attach to the top of the Touch Cover (velcro, paper clip, whatever), and the software adjusts to the layout. Microsoft issues an SDK so developers can write for any layout, and prepare printout templates.

      OK, now you have a completely customisable input device for your Surface!
      • This

        I was thinking long the same lines. And I suspect Google or Apple will see this first.

        Wait five more years before Microsoft takes up this idea.
  • The Blade Blade?

    A special blade designed for games like Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja?
    A Gray
  • Kinect seems obvious.

    Could be revolutionary as well.
    • Kinect isn't mobile... yet

      It's an interesting concept, but only if Kinect were somehow integrated into Surface.

      But that's OK - any "control panel + screen" device in any industry that would benefit from mobility is where blades will crush. Media/broadcasting is obvious. Medical devices, too. Industrial control/diagnostics. Remember, the point is that the task requires an unobscured display, otherwise we can just use the touchscreen. Or... scenarios where touching the screen would be bad (wet or dirty hands).

      One more possibility: mount your Surface on a workstation using the connector... such as snapping your Surface onto a synthesizer, or a projector, or an Xbox, or a printer, or a...
  • How about a Toilet Plunger Blade

    With all the B.S. coming out of Microsoft and all the out of touch ideas, Microsoft should get back to basics:

    Toilet paper and Plungers.

    Microsoft: The McDonald's of Operating Systems.
    Fireal Laname
    • Hate to say it, but... are an idiot. If you don't see the possibilities here and that this is really innovative, then you are just a closed minded person.
      • Agreed

        I hate Microsoft products for the most part, but despite that I think this is a very cool idea.
    • re:

      So, in other words, you think this is a bad idea because neither Apple nor Google came up with. Of course, when they copy it, it will be The Greatest Thing Ever. Moron.
      Sir Name
      • This is not innovation

        The problem with the Surface is that it wants to be a laptop. The iPad already can preform blades by changing the on screen keyboard to what the app developer wants. This is why the other angle the smart cover can do is important.

        Furthermore, this has a lowest common denominator problem. Unless the Surface 2 is a break away smash will developers ever program for these let alone build them.
        Joseph Cooper