The unveiling of the Touch Cover was perhaps the most intriguing bit of the Microsoft Surface tablet event in California on Monday evening, and the single feature of the Surface that most clearly differentiates it from Apple's dominant iPad.
The Touch Cover is a QWERTY keyboard for the Surface tablet that is integrated into the back case of the tablet itself. Just three millimeters thick, you can fold the keyboard under the tablet and use it to type on your tablet; that back cover also features a "kickstand" that allows you to stand the tablet for easy use on a flat surface. The Touch Cover attaches to the tablet via a magnetic connector, which Microsoft says forms "a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover." At the event, a Microsoft engineer said that an accelerometer is built into the keyboard that can sense when the keyboard is active and when it has been folded behind the tablet, to avoid accidental keystrokes.
The Touch Cover will come in five different colors, including hot pink, below:
The Touch Cover does not give you the click-clack of a traditional keyboard -- you have to purchase an add-on Type Cover accessory to gain that. Instead, it's pressure-sensitive, sensing when you tap on any key.
This -- a keyboard built into the back cover of the device itself -- seems to be the one feature that not only differentiates the Surface from the iPad, but from every other tablet, too. One of the main weaknesses of tablets as productivity devices is the lack of a physical keyboard; tapping away on glass is simply not as efficient nor natural. iPad users can buy Bluetooth keyboards, some of which come built into protective cases and act as stands.
With the Surface, however, you're getting a keyboard and stand built into the device itself, a much more elegant and attractive solution than what many third-party manufacturers offer for the iPad. When Microsoft pitches its new tablet to the enterprise world as a productivity device, that built-in keyboard (as well as the presence of Microsoft Office) could be a boon for the company.