Windows tablets: All about the keyboards

Windows tablets: All about the keyboards

Summary: Unlike tablets on other platforms, Windows tablets need good keyboard accessories to round out the user experience.

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Microsoft undertook a big challenge in making Windows 8 work well on both desktops, laptops, and tablets. That Windows works so well on tablets is why we’re seeing so many brought to market. Unlike tablets on other platforms, having good accessories available is important for those running Windows.

thinkpad-10-ultrabook-keyboard-600x370
(Image: Lenovo)

Odds are you see iPads everywhere, and a few Android tablets, too. They may be used without accessories, or perhaps with minimal covers like Apple’s Smart Cover. That’s due to the thin, light form of the tablet which is good to use in the hands.

Windows tablets are another thing. They are full PCs in tablet clothing. While it’s certainly possible to use them naked in the hand, I’ll bet most get used with a keyboard.

Windows tablets are another thing. They are full PCs in tablet clothing. While it’s certainly possible to use them naked in the hand, I’ll bet most get used with a keyboard. Microsoft realized this would be the case early on with its Surface tablets. It produced a line of keyboard covers, now numbering three, from the get-go with the Surface. The company knew that many buyers, perhaps most of them, would end up using the Surface as a laptop rather than a tablet.

That’s been my experience with other Windows tablets, too. I’ve used several with laptop docks, and one with a mobile Bluetooth keyboard. While all of these tablets work fine in the hand, Windows 8 seems more natural when used with a keyboard. That’s how I end up using every Windows tablet more often than not.

I’m not alone in this regard based on conversations with many Windows tablet users. Having a good keyboard solution is vital for attracting buyers for the tablet, and for making them happy. Whether this is the form of a laptop dock that turns the Windows tablet into a full laptop replacement, or a portfolio, or a simple cover, OEMs should release one at the same time as the tablet hits the market.

Lenovo understands the need for good keyboard accessories. The recently unveiled ThinkPad 10 tablet has not one but two options for keyboards that fully leverage the strengths of Windows 8.

Microsoft also understands this and has produced keyboard covers for its Surface tablets since the launch. It continues to improve these covers as they are vital to the success of the Surface. The newest model for the just launched Surface Pro 3 is even better than the previous models.

Neglecting to build such a keyboard accessory, or better yet multiple styles to give buyers a choice, will likely see that shiny new tablet languish on the shelves. People expect to use a Windows device with a keyboard at least some of the time, and the lack of one will likely put them off.

Some Windows tablet makers are already producing such accessories, and that’s a good thing. Buyers like choice, and that’s what you give them with more than one keyboard option. Be sure and price them realistically, though, especially if your tablet is already expensive. If you only build one keyboard option for your Windows tablet, think about throwing it in with the tablet. If any accessory is likely a necessity for the majority of your customers, put it in the box with the tablet.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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56 comments
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  • Keybd still essential for productivity

    as the author has written more times than Id like to count... keybd for productivity on any platform is still it. special use cases notwithstanding.... like with a pen etc.
    greywolf7
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      Tiredill
    • Double standards

      iPad needs keyboard to be somewhat productive, but it is a Windows problem as it needs a keyboard. Typical James anti-Microsoft rhetoric.

      Windows 8.1 tablets are as useful than iPad or Androids even without keyboard, why? it also supports touch (huh?), has side by side apps (iPad?) and sizeable applications to choose from (don't whine, 80% tablet use is for browsing and videos, remaining 15% use email, so probably 1% may be missing)
      soulxfer@...
    • If any tablet needed a keyboard, it's the iPad

      Among a million devices, I have 2 ipads (mini1 and ipad3).
      It drives me nuts when I try to use any ipad to enter product codes and formulas with the onscreen keyboard. Worst onscreen keyboard EVER!
      Just have a look at James's own ipad laptop setup.
      I rest my (keyboard) case.
      warboat
  • Use case determines how its used...

    i.e. ive relegated the iPad and Android tabs to occasional use and do most stuff with a windows tablet. When I'm doing tablety things (such as Id do with those other devices) I don't use the keybd or even have it attached. In those use cases the kybd is not needed and not missed at all. When you need a kybd you want a fully functional kybd that includes OS level navigation and full support. i.e. you can navigate the OS, switch apps, move from box to box within or between apps without having to go back and forth between kybd and touch screen to do any operation. There's only one platform the kybd does that on and the rest of the time its COMPLETELY 100% unnecessary.
    greywolf7
  • If it needs a keyboard

    It is not a tablet, which is why Surface sales are in the low single digits. More and more businesses are embracing iPads because both BlackBerry with the Playbook and MS with the Surface failed to offer a enterprise worthy tablet that businesses would embrace. I don't see that changing with Surface 3. The combination of price, Win 8, and the hybrid kludge nature of its design are 3 huge negatives that no amount of marketing can change.
    krossbow
    • ..

      then why are there monthly or weekly reviews of the best keyboards for iPads and other devices? all you have to do is scroll down the main page of zdnet or cnet and see a bunch of articles about it.
      abpbl6
      • The difference

        Is they are not integral to the design or functionality.
        krossbow
        • nor are they for windows

          unless in desktop mode.
          abpbl6
        • keyboard is NOT required for anything youd use an iPad/Android for.

          the use case determines what you would use a keyboard for. The real difference is when you want to use a keyboard does it have complete functionality or NOT as in the case with an iPad in particular. (some Droids almost do)
          greywolf7
    • ipad is enterprise ready?

      Ipads are NOT enterprise ready, they are enterprise workaround-able.
      If it was enterprise ready, it would not need the huge server side MDM workarounds or rely on RDPs.
      Moving mountains to suit the ipads does not make it enterprise class.
      warboat
    • Wow

      I'm glad you took it upon yourself to define for everyone else what IS and IS NOT a tablet. Here I was walking around with my Surface thinking it was a tablet.
      Rann Xeroxx
      • Thank you

        Educating the world is one of the many services I provide. :)
        krossbow
    • I have 2 windows tablets with no keyboards

      I have a Surface RT and Asus Vivotab Smart.
      I never got the keyboards for those 2 but use them regularly to enter product codes and formulas into excel without too much trouble unlike trying to do the same with iOS keyboard.
      I used them in tablet mode 100% of the time and have depended entirely on the Asus Vivotab as the only device apart from my phone on a week long trip as a road warrior.
      Windows tablets ARE usable without a keyboard despite what an iPad laptop user says.
      warboat
    • The only iPads I see in the enterprise all have keyboards attached so ...

      ... the user can create content. If you are trying to create anything on the iPad other than surf the web, send e-mail, or take notes. It is almost useless to the enterprise.
      M Wagner
  • Netbooks 2.0?

    Take a Netbook, add a touchscreen to it and you pretty much have an equivalent to what they're calling Windows "tablets" today. With tablets being the hot term to use thanks to Apple's iPad.

    The problem is, the vast majority of computer users spend most of their time consuming content such as video, web, social, shopping, games etc., not creating. Which makes the iPads, Kindle and other Android tablets perfectly suitable for their use cases.

    So why is that the they keyboard is such importance to Surface and Windows tablets when the majority of modern tablet users spend 90% of their time consuming? Because Windows is not off importance with this demographics 90% of the time and it have Microsoft shaking in their boots. Hence the force dependance on things like keyboards, full Windows on so called "tablets". The absence of a true mini Surface to combat the smaller tablet market was also telling.
    dave95.
    • and the 10% of the time people struggle with iPads and Androids

      Explain what an iPad or Android does that a Windows tablet cannot also do.


      The fallacy with this article is that people only use a device one way or another and there can be no inbetween is wrong. iOS and Android do "tabetly" things, they have limitations an compromises. People put them down when they hit the 10% of things they need to do, because the operating systems are limited.


      That isn't the case with a Windows tablet. It can do all the fun consumption things of iOS/Android, but it can also do the productivity things as well. It can go back and forth at will when a user needs it.


      There just isn't much reason to buy a single purpose companion device that runs mobile phone operating system anymore.



      I can't express enough how liberating it has been to have everything needed in one device. Switching devices isn't a matter of necessity to make up for the limitations of my tablet, but rather a choice to engage in a form factor as I desire.
      Emacho
      • Don't mind struggling 10%....

        If my tablet needs and use case are perfectly met the other 90% of the time. That right there are the reason such hybrid Windows tablets never really took off. 10% is not really that important enough for me and the majority of other tablet users to ignore the 90% use case.

        Like I said people are buying modern tablets because 90% of the time it's to be used for consumption, not keyboards. Microsoft have it all reversed. Windows users would be happy had they gone the smart phone route like Apple and Google did with their tablets, but that would be conceding there really is a post-PC movement.
        dave95.
        • Does that 10% justify another $500 purchase for a computer?

          Lets face it, Windows tablets prior to this year have been lackluster. Either huge price tags, poor design and marketing, or whatever.

          Now they are very competitive and in many cases, lower priced.

          The problem is people, like yourself, seem to thing that because a tablet can ALSO do productivity that it somehow can't do consumption.

          I think you have things backwards. Most people buy a tablet to do things with and only maintain another computer to make up for the deficiencies in mobile operating systems. I don't think most people WANT to buy multiple devices, or can afford to do such. I don't think they want to drag around two computers to meet all their needs when on the go. I don't think most people are want the hassle of disconnected operating systems, dissimilar programs and sync data and formats between the multiple platforms. I honestly cannot think of a worse way to do things than what you propose.


          There just isn't any justifiable reason why tablets should not be capable of meeting 100% of an average users needs. Any device that is put down in favor of using another device is vulnerable to being replaced. It doesn't matter how often it is.


          5-6 inch phones are starting to displace tablets, because iOS/Android tablets don't do anything a phone cannot and they are far easier to carry around.
          Emacho
          • Case you haven't noticed....

            PC sales have plummeted. Largely due to Moore's law peaking. People didn't feel the need to go out and replace their perfectly fine working computer. So most weren't running out spending $500 to begin with on a legacy PC. Actually they were using that $500 on a NEW form of computing, iPads.

            I keep hearing some say people don't want to buy multiple devices, yet you look around, they have no issues buying smart phones and game consoles and smart gears, and tablets when they already own PCs. Not that they don't want to buy multiple devices (they're doing so), they're just not really that into this hybrid category. It can't reach 100% of their needs is their needs require the ultimate tablet experience (90%). Mainly smaller light power efficient devices tied to a strong app ecosystem. Not a PC pretending to me a modern tablet.
            dave95.