Microsoft: Please make a real keyboard dock for the Surface Pro 3

Microsoft: Please make a real keyboard dock for the Surface Pro 3

Summary: The newest Surface tablet is thin and light enough to support a keyboard that will turn it into a real laptop.

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The newly announced Surface Pro 3 is the best tablet from Microsoft yet produced. Increasing the screen size to 12 inches allowed stretching out the inner components enough to make it thin (0.36 inches) and light (1.76 lbs). This makes it a reasonable size for a tablet and an even better size for a laptop.

Transformer T100 open
Asus Transformer Book T100 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The message from Microsoft is clear: The Surface Pro 3 is a laptop replacement that is also a tablet. The laptop replacement part requires one of the snap-on keyboard covers that Microsoft doesn't include with the tablet purchase. The newest Type Cover is pretty decent for laptop use, although falling short of real laptop keyboards, according to reviews.

What would turn the Surface Pro 3 into a real laptop replacement is a full keyboard dock. These have been around for a while and now that the Surface Pro 3 is thin and light enough, Microsoft could produce one. 

This would make for a killer laptop with a screen that could pop off and be a reasonable tablet.

A good example of a keyboard dock is included with the purchase of an Asus Transformer Book T100. It has a full keyboard that rivals those on many laptops. Both the keyboard and the trackpad on the Asus' keyboard dock are undersized given the 10-inch display of the tablet, but are still useful.

The larger display of the Surface Pro 3 would enable a keyboard dock to be full sized and overcome the minor shortcomings of the smaller Asus dock. This would make the Surface Pro 3 and keyboard a real laptop in every way. The dock could still be light and thin, even if Microsoft used the dock to add additional capabilities to the Surface.

Such capabilities would be a small second battery in the dock to add three or four additional hours to the nine hours of the tablet alone. This would be game changing for business travelers needing long operation away from a power outlet. Such a dock would also permit additional ports such as one or two USB 3.0. A second memory card slot would also fit to increase storage in laptop mode.

The keyboard dock could provide these extra ports while remaining thin if a wedge design was used. Keep it very thin at the front of the dock and just thick enough at the back to fit the USB ports. The combination of the Surface Pro 3 and the keyboard dock would be just over half an inch at the back and still weigh just over two pounds. This would make for a killer laptop with a screen that could pop off and be a reasonable tablet.

A dock as described would push me over the edge to buy a Surface Pro 3. I am currently considering buying the new Surface but the $1,000 it would cost me with a middling configuration is holding me back. I would also need a Type Cover, which would push the purchase price well over the $1,000 mark. That is making the decision to order one a hurdle I can't get over.

If I'm going to spend that much for a hybrid system I want the full keyboard dock. I don't want a laptop replacement that is just OK, I want to get a real laptop out of the deal.

Perhaps these feelings put me in the minority; I know many like the Type Cover and the portability it yields. I don't dislike the Type Cover, I'd just prefer a full laptop experience for that much money.

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Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Microsoft Surface

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31 comments
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  • What it seems like

    Interesting distinction. I would say that even if it's detachable, the T100 seems more like a notebook, whereas Microsoft wants the Surface 3 to seem more like a tablet. Part of that is that they keyboard should be as light as possible, certainly smaller than the tablet part.
    larry@...
  • Laptop keyboard option would be nice...

    I think a real laptop keyboard would be a nice option as well. I think the main reason they haven't done it yet is because they're doing their best not to compete directly with their OEM partners... which is pretty silly at this point. The Surface already DOES compete with OEM products, whether Microsoft admits it or not.
    cybersaurusrex
    • I agree

      What I think MS should do, is spin off its hardware business into a separate company, which MS has controlling interest, or which MS has substantial influence, and let them compete with other OEMs freely. It would be a bone to investors, it would allow MS to influence innovation on the hardware side of its ecosystem, and the spin off company would be free to do amazing things - rather than continually do things with their hands tied behind their backs. Oh, and I think the keyboard dock is a great idea.

      All these diluted, half measures are hurting the company. Windows 8 should only have been released on hardware with integrated screens, where the screens were touch based. Allowing OEMs to cut corners and place Windows 8 on non touch screen devices only exacerbated the Windows' market situation. Also, MS is a software company. It should be proud of its heritage and seek to modernize and perpetuate it, not cringe and bow down to Google's efforts to devalue it, and every form of IP known to man, so that only Google can make money. Advertising as a form of revenue is an anomaly: it is not the norm for doing business by the overwhelming majority of the businesses.

      MS needs to play to its strengths. Make the Windows 8 app store economically viable by introducing a professional store with minimum prices, as well as subscription options for apps, and allow availability of Windows 8 apps beyond Windows 8 PCs via virtualization and/or other means. The vitality and economics of the Windows desktop ecosystem need to be brought forward and modernized on Windows 8. Collaborate with Intel and Razer to allow the latter's Christine project to revitalize the desktop PC, by making it painless and conducive to freely add components to PCs, allowing them to be easily extended, and even be transformed into specialized devices.

      Ever since the whole antitrust debacle, all I see MS do is follow its competitors. It may be trying to outdo its competitors at their game, but it is ultimately following the lead of its competitors, instead of going down its own original path.

      MS, worry about getting your base excited by transforming the PC ecosystem to a modernized version of what it once was, instead of getting side tracked and trying to out perform your competitors at their own game, leaving your base scratching their heads. Then incorporate elements of your competitors' technologies into your own, staving them out of your ecosystem, and encroaching on their own. Do the above by getting the economics of the Windows 8 app store working, so that partners can bring innovative apps to market, which can in turn spur mid to higher end hardware purchases, and get the Windows 8 ecosystem cycle on solid footing. Then work with Intel and interested OEMs, to meaningfully innovate PC hardware continually, so that the transformation of the PC will not happen not just via the cloud, but via hardware innovations as well.
      P. Douglas
      • End of Innovation

        Those making Windows computer had stopped innovating. Microsoft had to come out with the Surface line to push things forward.

        A perfect example of this is with screen resolution. The market is stuck with 1920X1080 resolution screens. To few are willing to add to the cost to provide a decent monitor even if the cost is very small. In fact they often low ball things at 1280x720. Microsoft had to do something to break this trend.
        MichaelInMA
        • MS needs to do one or the other, not both

          The problem is that someone needs to be innovative with regards to the development of the PC, and be free to compete fiercely, instead of with their hands tied behind their backs. MS is in the limbo position of putting out great hardware, but not being able to make as great a commercial success of it as it can, for fear on stepping on its partners' toes. So MS just spin off the hardware section of the company, and ensure it has influence to ensure the new company continues to put out great hardware, while being able to say to OEMs, it is not competing against them.

          MS needs to either wholeheartedly compete with its OEMs, or not do so. It cannot try to have it both ways and achieve success.
          P. Douglas
        • How droll

          Innovation isn't really possible in a hardware sense unless one knows where the software is going. Now, Microsoft has never provided to OEM's a huge lead time on this, and has also a "certified to run this iteration" requirement. Kind of a drag making innovative hardware when one doesn't know the whole software picture in a timely manner and even when you do, you're tucked nicely in a straitjacket.
          ego.sum.stig
          • Easy to use extend APIs are key

            If companies like HP can come out with APIs for printers and other devices which extend the usual Windows APIs, I don't see why they can't rapidly innovate the hardware side of things. But the extended APIs would need to be as easy to use as the usual Windows APIs for printing, etc. by developers. Heck, they could even have their own app store that users could go to find apps that could control their devices gracefully. Hardware manufacturers could strike deals with software developers that could see the developers' apps get promoted by the companies, if the apps support the manufacturers' extended APIs. Users would get richer information from devices (which has seen very little progress in decades), as well as higher fidelity control over the devices via developers' apps.

            The above could lead to scenarios like being able to know the detailed status of hardware such as printers, copy machines, industrial machines, appliances, and being able also to control them remotely from a PC, tablet, or smartphone.
            P. Douglas
  • Yes, yes and yes!

    This would be a nice option to have indeed!
    miralles
  • Not a minority for sure

    Very few users use "modern UI" applications with windows 8. Not only on desktop machines (with or without touch) but even with Windows tablets.
    So I think it would be better for surface 3 to make less compromises when used like a desktop traditional PC rather than improve their tablets/touch capabilities.

    Having said that, from a "sex appeal" point of view, thin and light is much more interesting - but it sure goes against the "productivity" mantra Microsoft likes to announce. On top of that Microsoft doesn't want to make things look like you would be better served with something like a MacBook air or any other ultra-book.
    AleMartin
    • Where

      are you getting those statistics? I use Modern for about 90% of my tablet time. At the desk, probably 20%.

      My tablet (Samsung ATIV) has a keyboard dock, but I never take it with me and I probably have used it twice this year. When I am at my desk, it goes into the desktop dock, with a proper keyboard and external monitor attached. When I'm on the move it is usually in pure tablet mode.
      wright_is
      • Not really recent

        http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Soluto-Windows-8-Metro-UI,22741.html

        But I suppose nothing have changed, Windows 8 was improved mostly for desktop along the time. Modern UI apps are still terrible - even the window 8 control panel modern UI version is terrible.

        I could be wrong, but I believe surfaces are being used mostly for running legacy desktop applications that are less than perfect for touch. No wonder so many want to kill RT.
        AleMartin
        • One more note

          If the numbers of that study are not far from the true, they are just overwhelming.
          AleMartin
        • Another interesting article

          http://www.citeworld.com/article/2114682/tablets/microsoft-modern-ui-irrelevance.html
          AleMartin
    • Interesting statistic

      So what it pretty much says is that people are buying Surface Pro over other tablets as it can run full featured, x86 programs as opposed to simpler apps.
      William.Farrel
      • Nice interpretation

        Let's count the number of surface pros being sold, number of ipads being sold, numbers of android tablets being sold, and the number of windows PCs being sold.

        Oh, yes people are all buying surface tablets instead of "other tablets" :)... Interesting way of reading statistics...

        Without sarcasm, all windows tablet sales (all surface and tablets from OEMs) aren't enough to match the loss in Windows PC sales in one quarter of 2013.

        Regardless of studies, I think it's more or less obvious that modern UI applications are uninteresting and not much used. We can call something that runs 90% of the time legacy desktop applications a tablet, just because there is a nice weather app that is barely used and you can remove the keyboard, but that's not the point.
        AleMartin
  • Slowly reverting back to full notebooks then?

    The problem with products such as the Surface and Chromebooks for instance is that they are built around problems that never existed. They are targeting a subset of a subset market (very very niche). People are not looking for compromise solutions in a "reasonable" tablet and "ok" notebook combined. They are looking for the best solution for the seperate categories.

    The larger you make the screen and keyboards means the less it becomes ideal for mobile tablet use. Add in beefier hardware and power means it causes heat problems and the fan to kick, battery suffered, again making it less ideal for tablet use. Make it less power hungry, smaller screen and it becomes less ideal for productivity. It's a crazy dance this company have gotten themselves in. If they were to offer such a keyboard like the Transformerbook then they will be offering nothing different than their competition. And it will be seen more like an Ultrabook PC than tablet.
    dave95.
    • Sales numbers for Chromebooks prove that wrong.

      People deny convergence, yet they ignore simple things.

      1. The modern CPU is many times more powerful than the average person needs for daily computing. Take the i3 Surface Pro 3, and give it to average Joe with a nice laptop. It'll accomplish almost anything you throw at it aside from serious video editing, etc.

      Imagine telling your friend that 5-10 years ago; that the CPU doesn't really matter anymore, since all of them are basically "good enough".

      2. This *will happen* to the integrated GPU. It hasn't happened yet, but eventually it will. Broadwell alone is supposed to bring us fanless tablets, a 40% improvement in graphics performance all while using less power. THAT'S impressive. Eventually we are going to hit a point where form factor doesn't place constraints on meaningful computing power (generally speaking).

      Devices like the Surface Pro 3 make that point very well—this device is by far the best of it's class available right now. I would buy one, if I didn't trust that Microsoft and Intel will make the perfect device for me next year. The Surface Pro 4, fanless, with graphics more than powerful enough for classic gaming (Homeworld 2, X-series games), near-best-in-class battery life, and a even more solid integrated keyboard solution.
      Walkop
      • Chromebook link.

        http://techcrunch.com/2013/12/28/googles-chromebooks-have-hit-their-stride/
        Walkop
    • Different choices for different users

      Not everyone wants the one or two choices the some companies think fit all users needs.

      The end goal is that Microsoft devices are going to offer a complete solution for a user, regardless of what device they pick up. The point is that no matter what size device a user wants to pick up or take with them, it will offer 100% of their functionality needs.

      There also seems to be a problem of people not seeing the trees through the forest.

      The Surface Pro3 is aimed at competing with the MacBook Air and now the MacBook Pro. It isn't competing with iPads and Androids. If you compete the Surface Pro line of devices against MacBooks or Ultrabooks, there is a very considerable value, flexibility and functionality they offer over other devices in that price range.

      Again, it may not be for everyone, but there are now Windows devices that not only compete in the MacBook price range, but could be argued they are superior in many regards.
      Emacho
      • Re: The Surface Pro3 is aimed at competing with the MacBook Air....

        And there we have the problem. Each time I mention the MacBook Air I am hauled over the coals when drawing comparisons regarding how long the battery lasts on one charge. It has been suggested that the Surface 3 will be good for 9 hours where the MacBook Air is good for 12 hours.

        3 hours is a pretty big loss in my book.

        Oh yes I can make comparisons between the Surface 3 and the MacBook Air because you just said I could.
        5735guy