Ever since we all caught our first glimpses of the Microsoft Surface PCs/tablets, the biggest draw for me were the touch and type covers.
Without these, the Surface looked like just any other ARM- or Intel-based Windows tablet. But the covers -- the flat touch ones and the raised-key type one -- are what made the Surface much more interesting. The covers are what seemed like they'd help Microsoft blur the lines between tablets and PCs and make the company's claims that "tablets are PCs" less far-fetched.
On October 16, Microsoft at long last is going public with the pricing and pre-orders for the Surface RT, the first of its Surface-branded products. "Limited" pre-orders for Surface RT start at 9 am PT/12 noon ET today at http://www.Surface.com. Surface RTs also will be available for sale, as expected, in Microsoft's brick-and-mortar and 34 holiday pop-up stores starting October 26. They'll also be available for sale online in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the United States. (Whether this means for sale by other online outlets in addition to Microsoft's own MicrosoftStore.com sites is still unknown.)
While most Microsoft watchers will no doubt focus on the prices of the base devices themselves -- ranging from a 32GB, keyboard-free version at $499, to a 64GB one bundled with a black touch cover for $699 -- I was and am far more interested in the cover/keyboard pricing.
We haven't known for sure, until today, whether Microsoft planned to charge extra for the touch and type covers. The final word is that the keyboards/covers cost extra, unless you buy the aforementioned 64GB bundled with a black touch cover.
Available as of October 26 are five touch covers in a choice of black, white, magenta, cyan and red, priced at $119.99 each. The one and only type cover, which is targeted at users who prefer a more "traditional" typing experience, comes in black only and is $129.99.
I haven't been expecting Microsoft to try to be the low-cost player in the Windows tablet space, and today's pricing reinforces the fact that this isn't Redmond's intention, either. Given how much good iPad cases and add-on keyboards cost, I'm OK with the $120 to $130 extra Microsoft is charging for the touch/type covers. It seems like a reasonable price. I only wish the type keyboard came in multiple colors, too, as I'm betting that's the one I'll prefer.
Microsoft's Surface catch phrase, "Click In," refers to the sound users will hear when attaching the keyboards to the hinge on the Surface devices, and to a lesser extent, to the sound the built-in kickstand makes when it's locked and ready for use. Even though you can use the Surface in keyboard-less, touch-only mode, the message is it's meant to be used with the keyboard, which is always with you, as it's built into the cover.
I don't see the assumed inclusion of a keyboard as a weakness. Microsoft's positioning is that not just the coming Intel-based Surface Pros, but also the Surface RTs are meant for both the office and home. Surface RTs are not designed to be consumption-only or consumption-first PCs/tablets. That said, few businesses probably will be snapping these up until more business-focused apps are available in the Windows Store and Microsoft's planned management infrastructure for these devices is in place, which is expected in Q1 2013.
I haven't yet had any hands-on time with the Surface RT, so I can't yet say I'm totally sold. But for me, the pricing isn't a deal breaker. What about you?