Microsoft debuted a tablet keyboard and two mice Tuesday morning that follow their company's new cross-platform mantra: They're compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices.
At a time when Microsoft is loudly promoting its services on non-Windows hardware, it's not surprising to see its peripherals business follow suit. The $59.95 Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse, the $29.95 Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Limited Edition, and the Universal Mobile Keyboard don't necessarily need Microsoft to run. Only the $59.95 Xbox One controller for Windows specifically pairs Microsoft's hardware with Windows.
In fact, Microsoft touted the Universal Mobile Keyboard as a, well, universal device--capable of running on iOS and Android, as well as Windows tablets like the Surface. The showcase feature of the new keyboard is what Microsoft calls its "OS Switch," a button that doubles as the Windows Control key, the iOS Command key and Android's Home button, all on one keyboard.
The keyboard itself doubles as a standard Bluetooth keyboard, or a stand and cover. You can prop up your cell phone or tablet on the stand itself and carry it around when not in use.
Microsoft itself estimates that users can type more than double the words per minute they'd normally accomplish using the tablet's own on-screen keyboard. When you do close the cover, the device shuts off. It will last about six months on a single charge, the company said.
There's no secret sauce tying the Universal Keyboard to Microsoft's Surface tablet, and Android tablets or an iPad will not necessarily see an improvement just because Microsoft's name is on the label. But Microsoft has a legacy of developing quality PC peripherals, and it's likely that the company sees the emerging market of tablets and smartphones as a new opportunity. Microsoft has already developed two mobile accessories, but with its Lumia phones in mind. Are more on the way?
The two mice are more familiar. There's an improved version of the Microsoft Arc Mouse, which adds Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy technology for improved battery life--six months on a pair of AAA batteries for the original Arc Mouse, and an a total of eight months for the new model. Otherwise, it's essentially the same design: a solid travel mouse whose "arc" flattens down into a travel mode, then activates when you bend it. I have an Arc Mouse next to my desk, and while it's great for business trips, you'll probably want something a little more ergonomic for daily use.
On the other hand, the Arc Mouse does have the dongle-free advantage. Not so for the Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Limited Edition, which promotes style over function with its eye-catching design.
I find Microsoft's Mobile Mouse designs well suited for daily use. While I tend to prefer a slightly larger Logitech mouse, I also favor the Mobile Mouse's standard mouse wheel plus two-button combination design versus the "slider" design that the Arc Mouse uses.
The only drawback? The aptly-named "nano" receiver, which tends to wander between the various computing devices in my house, often getting misplaced in the process. Otherwise, the Mobile Mouse 3500 includes the same eight-month battery life of the Arc Mouse.
Finally, there's the Xbox One controller for Windows. It provides a second Microsoft option for those playing Xbox games, such as Halo, that have been ported to the PC. Until now, gamers were forced to choose among either the Xbox 360 controller, gamepads from Logitech and other providers--or the PlayStation 4, which Sony said would support the PC right out of the box.
Microsoft claims that gamers can use the Xbox One controller to play an Xbox One wirelessly, while the controller's plugged in via a USB cable to a PC. From Microsoft's vantage point, that controller helps tie the two platforms together.
Microsoft's two mice will be available in September, and the Universal Keyboard will launch in October. The wired Xbox One controller arrives in November. While it's unlikely that most workers will venture out to a store to try out a mouse, Microsoft's Universal Mobile Keyboard could be a productive addition to your briefcase or backpack.