Surface Duo: Where's the keyboard case?

A simple accessory would help define the device's identity.

Foldable future: How Microsoft hopes to define a new hardware category with Surface Neo and Duo

Microsoft insists that the Surface Duo is a bona fide Surface -- even as it hesitates to call it a phone. But there's one thing that Microsoft has seen fit to be part of every Surface -- including the delayed Surface Neo -- that the Surface Duo doesn't have but which would suit it perfectly: A keyboard. Much like the Type Cover helped to define the Surface tablet, a keyboard case that folded around the outside of Microsoft's dual-screened Android device could be a defining element of its design. For years, Microsoft has offered a fine folding Bluetooth keyboard that works with Android and other OSes; it's close to what such a case might resemble.

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Offering such a keyboard accessory would align well with the Surface Duo's productivity proposition generally and the Surface brand specifically. When Microsoft showed off the now-delayed Surface Neo, the two screens may have grabbed the headlines, but the keyboard was also a key part of the story.

There would clearly be a few challenges. A keyboard case would consume more pocket room. One of the Duo's defining characteristics is its 360-degree hinge that leaves no space for even a very thin wraparound case that can accommodate its full rotation, much less one that could accommodate acceptable key travel. Many years before the zero-key-travel Touch Cover made its debut with the first Surface, Logitech tried creating a soft, highly unsatisfying keyboard case made from fabric that wrapped around the Palm V. Still, basic protective cases makers will surely accommodate the Duo with sleeve-like designs that the Duo can slip into whether its screens are positioned inward or outward.

But while the flip phone-like protection that the closed Surface Duo provides for its screens has been barely mentioned among its design benefits, it would allow a sleeve-like gap into which the Duo could slip, perhaps even with the screens facing out if the surfaces of the keys were softened somehow. An even slimmer keyboard might be possible if Microsoft enabled a pogo connector on a side of the Duo, perhaps when it is in tent mode, as it would remove the need for a battery. However, the already expensive Duo lacks one.

A detachable keyboard would also bolster Microsoft's hedge against the fear of the Duo being perceived a just two-screened version of what we all already carry around in our pockets. Indeed, Samsung's decision to put a full-sized display on the front of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 validates that that product's signature folding display is unused much of the time. This dynamic also helped shape LG's decision to make the second display for its most recent phones like the Velvet an accessory. The one-screen scenario will often apply to the Duo as well.

Of course, nothing would prevent Microsoft from releasing such a keyboard case in the coming months. The company could wait until it has a few months of sales under the Duo's belt to release such an accessory. Alternatively, since it would be based on Bluetooth, a Zagg or Logitech could try one of the Duo market develops. On the other hand, the tail must show up on time to wag the dog. Imagine if Microsoft had waited until the third-generation Surface Pro (when the device started hitting its stride) to release the keyboard cover. We'd think of the Surface very differently today -- that is, if we thought of it at all.

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