Microsoft Giving Away Vaunted Keyboard Cover with Surface

| Analysis

Click it! That's been part of the marketing message delivered by Microsoft for its Surface tablets. It's the sound the company's keyboard covers make when they attach it to their Surface, and it was what Microsoft was betting would really kick Windows 8 into the media tablet market owned by Apple's iPad.

Ah, the dreams of even the great so often turn to ash, and thus were Redmond's visions of a future ruled by angry children and hipster dancers with their Surfii and their massive conference tables destined to go up in flames.

Microsoft was so proud of its keyboard, it was an optional accessory at $119 (the Touch Cover) and $129 (the Type Cover). That was on top of the $499 starting price for the Surface RT and $899 for the Surface Pro.

On Thursday, however, that changed. Microsoft sent out emails to those of us masochistic enough to subscribe to Surface news offering a free Touch Cover or Type Cover with the purchase of a new Surface.

Free Covers!

Microsoft Cover Offer

The offer is available on Microsoft's Surface website as of this writing.

OK, so this piece is obviously full of snarky smugness, but can you blame me? The focus on a keyboard was one of the most asinine product decisions we've seen come from Microsoft, and that's saying something.

As I noted in my Five Free Tips for Microsoft’s Board column, if you look at the success of the iPad and your takeaway is that what everybody really wants is a keyboard, you're doing it wrong. If you want proof, this promo offer is it. If people wanted the Surface with its keyboard, Microsoft wouldn't have to give 'em away.

If Microsoft wants to become relevant in the world of mobile, the company has to start with understanding that iPad is popular in part because it is not a computer.



: )

Curtis Quick

Six month ago I got a Surface RT tablet of my own, with a touch cover and I love it! It is precisely because the Surface RT comes with MS Office and was designed to work so well with a keyboard that I purchased it. I use it daily as a laptop replacement. It is tons lighter than my laptop and runs for more than twice as long.

I understand that there are many who view tablets as primarily media devices and do not see how they could be useful in place of PCs for productivity applications, but for me that is exactly the draw of the Surface. I am not a big movie watcher. I do not spend a lot of time listening to music. Nor do I have a long list of games that I like to play. Mind you I am not against these activities, I just don’t have that kind of time in my schedule.

I need to be able to use my time well to get my work done and the Surface RT helps me to do just that and it does it exceptionally well. And when I get my work done, the Surface RT is there to give me some much needed R&R. I don’t think any other tablet or laptop can boast of being so capable, so portable, and so long lasting.

That Microsoft lowered the price of the Surface RT is a great thing. It is a good product that will provide it’s users with much productivity and pleasure. The lower the price, the more people may have the opportunity to try one out for themselves and experience just how good the Surface is.


Can you actually use the Surface in portrait mode?

Curtis Quick

The Surface RT works just fine in portrait mode. Held this way, the Surface is good with long blog posts like this one. However, it is much more enjoyably used in landscape mode especially when using the attached touch cover keyboard.  Even now I am using the keyboard on my lap to type this post and it is quite comfortable to use with the kickstand out sitting on my knees.


@Curtis Quick: “I don’t think any other tablet or laptop can boast of being so capable, so portable, and so long lasting.” I’m glad you like your MS Surface RT, but really, what can your Surface RT do - other than specifically running MS Office - that an iPad with one of the many available keyboard covers cannot? iOS Mail works pretty seamlessly with Exchange, for Mail. I’d even say that it’s given me a fair bit less trouble than MS Outlook has. As for Word, Excel and Powerpoint, Apple offers Pages, Numbers and Keynote, which are on-par with their MS counterparts. Also, there are numerous 3rd party apps to fill the same roles. So, what is it that you think makes the Surface RT superior to the iPad?


Oh, and as for ‘long lasting’, how do you figure that if you’ve only had it for six months? Seriously, what is your basis for that belief?


I bet the long lasting comment is about battery life as opposed to a laptop.


@Curtis Quick

Right, got it. I guess they never show it in portrait mode because of the keyboard.

Still, since I can already get a range of clip-on keyboards for the iPad then I really don’t see what I’d be gaining.  I am so over Microsoft Office.


One thing that came to light during the whole Samsung/Apple mess: Microsoft licenses patents from Apple to build the Surface, so I’ve always wondered if the clip-on keyboard was one of the bits they borrowed.

Then I wondered why Apple didn’t make one for the iPad.

And now that MS is giving it away to boost sales, I think I see why.


Unfortunately, the MS Office argument really is a killer.

I have been promoting iPads (as CIO of a medium sized UK plc) for use around the business since the original iPad. All my fellow C level members have and use one. To a person, except me, they all ask whether they could now have a Surface. They will keep their iPad for home use, but they all need to “work on Microsoft Office documents” while travelling - principally in the airport, on the plane and at home. And while Pages/Keynote MAY be better than MS Office (I seriously doubt that if you have actually used recent version of MS Office) the workflow of “receive an Excel file from finance, fill in the numbers you need to supply back to them, doing a few what-ifs on the way, and send it back in the same format it arrived while offline” simply does not work well on iPad.

If someone could point me at that workflow - and its equivalent for Powerpoint and Word documents - working well on iPad, I would bite their hand off. I currently have iWork, DocsToGo, QuickOffice, GoodReader, Office2HD, Smart Office 2 Slideshark, CloudOn and iSpreadsheet on my iPad and none of them do it - the nearest is DocsToGo. And I have deleted several other attempts too which are totally useless!

In my opinion, the Microsoft loss leader of Surface RT has set the clone makers up to obliterate iPad in two to three years in the Exec sector of business. They won’t make any money, but inexorably they will take over that market. And in the meantime, Microsoft will embed Office ever deeper in corporations, to continue to milk that cash cow for a long time to come.

I wish that Apple (or an Apple developer) would take the workflow that I have described and make it really work seamlessly on iPad and if they had done that properly years ago, they would never have let Windows into this market. Instead they haven’t even seriously developed iWork since its release.

What do you think? Can anyone help me?

Curtis Quick

I may have been using the wrong language above. I did not mean to pick a fight by suggesting that the Surface is superior to the iPad. I just think that the Surface is better suited to productive work than the iPad. There are several capabilities of the Surface that I find very helpful that do not seem as easy on the iPad.

Printing is one. While at home and the office I have ben able to print to all the printers that I have tried to connect to without difficulty. My wife uses an iPad and we have not been able to connect her up to print.

Last week while my wife was in the states (I live in Taipei) we were speaking over the phone and each of us was checking travel information on our respective tablets. At one point I asked her if I could just Skype with her and save some money. She responded that she was unable to see me on Skype and look up information on her iPad at the same time. On the Surface it is quite easy to have two apps on screen at the same time. To me, that ability is killer.

I also like the fact that I can plug my Surface into a monitor, television, or video projector and show different things on both screens. I especially like how I can have PowerPoint running on the Surface and the presentation showing on the video projected image. When I connect my Surface to a monitor, it’s a lot like using a desktop. Of course, no one likes cables, but having a second screen can be worth the extra cable. I look forward to Surface 2.0 which will have wireless video. That will allow me to just set my Surface down on a table and click the icon to connect to the monitor wirelessly. It will also be nice to show my screen on the television.

I like the weight of the Surface. With only the tablet and it’s touch cover it’s lighter than my wife’s iPad and it’s cover (and she doesn’t have a keyboard). I also like the fact that I don’t need another cover for my Surface. I carry it around all the time with only the touch cover and it is durable enough to not get all scratched up.

I also like the ability of the Surface to add Micro SD cards. We will be taking a trip and I can load up lots of movies for my son to watch on multiple SD cards (each one is 64GB). Of course, the SD cards make it easy to store lots of pictures and videos as well. This is very helpful.

It is also nice that when my son uses my Surface he logs into his own account and runs his own apps without accidently accessing my information or messing with my documents or settings. I don’t have to worry about anything being lost or files modified.

The Surface has a full-featured Internet browser. I like the fact that it will show flash web sites and that Facebook and Googledocs work just fine in the browser. I also love how I can swipe to the left to a previous page and to the right to return to a later page.

People complain that there are not enough apps on the Surface. But honestly, I don’t have enough time to bother with 50,000 Surface apps much less the half million iPad apps. Sure, I have downloaded tons of apps, but I don’t really need any of them. I already have the one app I need - MS Office. I know others don’t need it, but all my work is done with it and its standard at my company. I have absolutely no formatting issues by sticking with MS Office - that saves time and hassle.

I know others feel quite differently about the Surface, and that’s fine. But for me the Surface does what I need and does it better than any other tablet I have seen.


Don’t worry. No fight here. But “productive” is a very individual adjective. As a designer and illustrator, MS Office has no productive qualities for me, which is why I don’t have it on my iMac and don’t miss it on my iPad. When I feel some creative writing coming on, Pages on iPad or iMac works great. It’s just personal preference.
As for the Surface, I just never understood why MS made such a big deal about the keyboard cover and then made it an expensive option. With their history of selling the XBox at a loss I was surprised by this as it seemed like a good differentiator to the iPad. Too late now.

Curtis Quick

Actually, Microsoft sold Surface at a high price to preserve their relationship with their hardware partners. Microsoft knew that they could win the battle with Surface and lose the war for Windows. By keeping the price high and severely restricting distribution, Microsoft kept their promise to their hardware partners to not be in competition with them. At the launch of Surface Microsoft maintained that they built the Surface to showcase how Windows 8 can be optimized for a tablet. It seems that they kept their word to their partners. And now their partners have responded with dozens of models of Windows 8 tablets.

Many say the end of the PC era has arrived and that devices like tablets are the next step. If this is the case, over a billion Windows users are going to be looking to tablets to replace their laptops as they wear out. My guess is that they are wanting a device that has the power of a PC in a tablet form-factor. A Windows 8 tablet is just that.

Bryan Chaffin

Curtis, it’s great to have some thoughtful conversation with a Windows fan. You make some great points, but there’s one thing I’m compelled to note:

Many say the end of the PC era has arrived and that devices like tablets are the next step. If this is the case, over a billion Windows users are going to be looking to tablets to replace their laptops as they wear out. My guess is that they are wanting a device that has the power of a PC in a tablet form-factor. A Windows 8 tablet is just that.

All evidence has so far run to the contrary, both pre-iPad and certainly post-iPad. Consumers have loudly spoken, saying that they want a tablet that is not a PC.

Microsoft could make a great tablet, but it will not so long as it is trying to make a tablet that is also a functional PC.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s the reality reflected by iPad sales, the sales of competing Android devices (even if no one uses them once they buy them), and the lack of Surface sales.

Curtis Quick

Byron, I agree with you when you say that many of those who purchased iPads did not do so to replace their laptops. In fact, I would guess that almost no one believes an iPad was designed to provide that level of functionality. And many, many iPad users believe that it is inherently wrong to think of tablets as potential laptop replacements. In fact, I know some iPad users who maintain that the Surface is a failure specifically because it is designed to run like a PC does.

And again, you are right that iPad sales do suggest that many are choosing iPad tablets over Surface tablets. But I see three main reasons for this.

One, the consumer does not wish to use their iPad as a laptop replacement and so the advantages of the Surface are not useful to them.

Two, Microsoft has deliberately limited distribution to avoid offending their hardware partners making it hard to get a Surface (I had to go from Taipei to San Francisco to get mine, and I was one of the lucky ones).

And three, a vocal minority are so offended by Microsoft making a tablet that they loudly proclaim the Surface and Windows 8 to be a failure and so do everything they can to dissuade others from even trying one out. I personally witnessed this when I was in New York trying to purchase a Surface Pro back in March. In one Best Buy store a customer was asking questions to a clerk about the Surface RT model that was in the store. The clerk declared that the Surface RT was a mistake and that the customer should follow the clerk over to the iPad display. It wasn’t until I spoke with the customer that he actually had his questions answered about the Surface RT. I was left to wonder if the clerk might have earned some commission for iPad sales. And by the way, the things the clerk was saying about the Surface were quite incorrect. The clerk said that the Surface did not operate properly, had a terrible UI, and did not actually come with MS Office for free (but only included a trial version that would expire in 30 days. When I picked up my Surface, after five minutes of playing I had figured out the UI (it’s fun and powerful). It runs as smooth as butter and does not crash. And it has full MS Office (sans Excel Macros and Outlook - although that is coming at the end of June).

However, now that a billion Windows users around the world are faced with replacing their aging laptops ( as the PC is dead).  So what are these Windows users going to choose. A tablet that is great for media consumption but is not designed for productivity (the iPad) or a Windows tablet that does media consumption just as well but also provides laptop functionality enabling them to also get their work done. For many the choice will be a simple one - a Windows tablet. It is one device that will accomplish what they need to get done and do it well.

Of course, some will choose an iPad and a MacBook Air combination, However I think the sales of MacBook Air laptops show that is not likely to be a large number of the total PC sales volume (less than 5 percent). Others either don’t want to spend the extra money for both, or don’t want to have to carry both when they can have both in one device for less weight and less dollars spent.

Curtis Quick

Byran, my bad on mispelling your name. I want to say that it’s my Surface’s over aggressive auto-correct at fault, but actually it’s my slightly dyslexic eyesight. My apologies.


I agree with everything Curtis says.

I love my iPad. My Apple using colleagues in the business love their iPads, including the Executives. But most of them want a single machine that can be both a tablet and a laptop, and Windows 8 tablets fulfill that need far better than an iPad… Simply because of running MS Office.

As a result in 2 to 3 years, Windows tablets will be the market leader.

I just hope Apple or their developers fix things on iPad before that happens, but I see no signs of it at the moment sadly.

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