Touch-screens have helped change the face of enterprise mobility, but some users still prefer a traditional keyboard for writing documents and performing tasks that require more than a few virtual key presses.
On March 2, during Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft unveiled a new slim, foldable keyboard that not only complements the company's new business-friendly Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL smartphones, but also works with smartphones and tablets from rival mobile device makers. Dubbed simply the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard, it works with Windows Phones and tablets, as well as iOS (Apple iPhone and iPad) and Android devices.
While showing off Microsoft's new Office Universal Apps, specifically Outlook, on a Lumia 930 Windows smartphone at MWC, Julia White, a Microsoft Office general manager, said before unveiling the Universal Foldable Keyboard: "Sometimes when I'm emailing on my phone, I really have … a longer email I want to send and I wish I had a real keyboard."
The compact, pocket-able peripheral, built by the Microsoft hardware team, can be paired with up to two devices simultaneously.
White continued, demonstrating how "with Bluetooth, it connects automatically to my Windows Phone, but also my iPhone, my iPad, my Android devices as well." Just as the company's flagship productivity platform has gone multi-platform in the mobile era, Microsoft's new hardware is taking a similar tack, she added.
"[Just] as I can use Office across all my devices, I can use this great new foldable keyboard as well," White said. "I can use it across all of the different places I'm working."
Steve Clarke, a writer for Microsoft, noted in a statement that the keyboard powers up automatically when it is folded open. "Then you'll enjoy fast, comfortable typing on a full-size keyset. Power through emails, edit a proposal or instant message with friends," he said. The keyboard measures 11.61 inches by 4.9 inches when it's open and laid flat on a surface.
"When you're done, simply close it to turn it off and you're ready to go." Once folded shut, the keyboard is 0.45 inches thick and its width is roughly halved (5.8 inches), small enough to fit into a pocket.
A YouTube video uploaded by Microsoft reveals dedicated keys that provide one-touch switching between devices. It depicts a woman using Word on an Android tablet pressing a key and quickly responding to a text message on her iPhone.
Bearing a resemblance to Microsoft's Surface Type Cover, the company claims that the device's battery can last up to three months on a single charge, aided by low-power Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The water-resistant peripheral is built to withstand the rigors of traveling while nestled in a pocket or gadget bag.
The Universal Foldable Keyboard will be priced at $99.95 when it goes on sale at the Microsoft Store and other retailers in July.