Microsoft’s New Mobile Keyboard Swings 3 OS Ways

For people who aren't locked into one ecosystem, Microsoft has introduced a mobile keyboard that's just as compatible with iOS and Android as with Windows. The device could restore some Microsoft creds in the enterprise. "I think Nadella is starting to push the company back into areas where they once had leadership and that this keyboard is part of that strategy," said tech analyst Rob Enderle.

Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled a new, cross-platform mobile keyboard that’s designed to work not just with Windows devices but also with those running Android and iOS.

“People frequently find they have a mixture of operating system platforms, resulting in them having to carry different accessories for each device,” explained Microsoft spokesperson Suzanne Choney. “Microsoft’s new Universal Mobile Keyboard helps address that.”

Users need only open the protective cover to turn the Bluetooth-enabled Universal Mobile Keyboard on. Featuring a “chiclet”-style key set, the keyboard includes an OS switch that lets users change from one operating system to another while maintaining full functionality.

The keyboard’s rechargeable battery provides up to six months of usage on a single charge, Microsoft said.

An integrated stand can be easily detached, allowing users to position their tablet however they like.

The Universal Mobile Keyboard will be generally available in October for US$79.95 at the Microsoft Store and at other retailers.

Opening the Doors

The arrival of the Universal Mobile Keyboard is another in a recent series of moves by Microsoft to reach out to users of platforms other than its own Windows and Windows Phone.

Also Tuesday, Microsoft announced a new Android version of its popular OneNote application with support for Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform.

And late last week it rolled out versions of its Dynamics NAV ERP apps for iPad and Android as well as Windows 8.

Apple and IBM, meanwhile, recently teamed up to target business users through an initiative that calls for IBM to create industry-specific apps native to iOS as well as sell iPhones and iPads.

Of course, it’s one thing to make enterprise apps available on an array of mobile devices; making them comfortably usable is another thing altogether. Could something as simple as a cross-platform keyboard be the key to the enterprise’s heart?

‘There are Thousands of Keyboards’

“I don’t really think an add-on keyboard is the key to the enterprise kingdom, but it is something handy to have in your knapsack when you come to the gatekeepers,” Carl Howe, vice president for data sciences research at 451 Research, told the E-Commerce Times.

“There are thousands of mobility keyboards in all shapes and sizes, and as such it’s hard to differentiate a company based only on a mobile keyboard offering,” Howe explained. “As an example, I have both a full-sized iPad and an iPad mini, and I have Logitech keyboard covers for both.”

While it’s tempting to think that one size fits all, “that just doesn’t work when you are trying to address the needs of half-pound ultra-thin devices,” he asserted. “They need to be made to fit both the device and the use case. I don’t see a single mobility keyboard doing that, considering the diversity of mobile devices in the enterprise today.”

‘The Enterprise Likes Consistency’

On the other hand, “Microsoft used to lead in keyboards, mice and other accessories in this class,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

“I think [CEO Satya] Nadella is starting to push the company back into areas where they once had leadership and that this keyboard is part of that strategy,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

There is an Apple-branded keyboard on the market, Enderle added, but while “its design is more consistent, it doesn’t dock with a tablet, and the iPad doesn’t have a kickstand, so it isn’t as elegant as the Microsoft solution.”

Moreover, “most don’t use this keyboard for their iPads, generally preferring one that is more like the Microsoft solution, because the Apple product doesn’t carry well,” he asserted.

In short, “the enterprise likes consistency, and by standardizing on the Microsoft product, they do address all of the tablet platforms,” Enderle concluded. Also, “the Microsoft brand is trusted, which could allow them to again dominate the keyboard market — at least with respect to tablets and the enterprise space.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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