Microsoft Preps Windows 8 Keyboard, Mice for Surface, Other Devices

Microsoft, gearing up for the Oct. 26 release of Windows 8, introduced new mobile keyboards and mice, optimized for its touch-rich new operating system.

Microsoft has introduced three new mice and two mobile keyboards, all designed to optimize the user experience with its upcoming Windows 8 platform and Surface tablet.

Microsoft introduced the Surface during a June 18 event in Los Angeles but didn't make clear whether the keyboard-slash-cover€”a trait instantly distinguishing the Surface from Apple's iPad€”would be sold separately. Pricing and availability questions also went unanswered.

Similarly, the company glossed over the fact that Microsoft had, in unveiling an impressive piece of hardware at an invitation-only event, stepped out ahead of its hardware partners, insisting that Microsoft had long been making mice.

In a July 30 press release introducing its new products, Microsoft hardly filled in any blanks. A likely guess, though, is that the keyboard-cover it showed off in Los Angeles will be sold separately€”an add-on accessory like these more traditional keyboards. (If it were included, and Microsoft is still offering these additional options, it wouldn't be a great vote of confidence for the user experience of that keyboard, though certainly there are always sticklers for more traditional keyboards, and options are a welcome thing.)

A Wedge Touch Mouse, priced at $69.95, offers four-way touch scrolling and navigation, and an "artful and minimalist design" that wirelessly connects to a tablet or laptop through Bluetooth. As exaggerated an evolution as Apple's hockey puck mouse, the Wedge looks something like an elongated gym-teacher whistle.

Like all the new mice, the Wedge features BlueTrack technology, which enables it to operate on a variety of surfaces, including most couches, should it come to that. When the device it's paired with is powered down, the Wedge Touch Mouse automatically goes into Backpack Mode, to help save the life of its AA battery.

The new Wedge Mobile Keyboard, which runs on three AAA batteries, is a sleek, full-size keyboard, complete with Hot Keys and media keys. Designed specifically for use with tablets, it features a snap-on cover€”to protect it from crumbs and scratches when it's thrown in a bag or stored in a desk drawer€”that can double as a tablet stand. Bluetooth technology again connects it to a tablet.

Engadget reports that this rather specific keyboard can be paired with Windows 7, 8 and RT devices, and even Mac OS X, but it's not compatible with Windows Vista. It will retail for $79.95.

A Sculpt mobile Keyboard, said to position the hands and wrist in a "natural and comfortable resting position," has a swoopy dip€”what Microsoft calls a Comfort Curve€”and is also a full-size keyboard. It's again battery-run, connected by Bluetooth and features a battery-saving technology that powers it down after a long stretch without use.

The Sculpt keyboard weighs just over a pound, is said to be rather durable, making it a nonstressful travel companion, and is priced at $49.95.

A matching Sculpt Touch Mouse is intended for Windows 8-running PCs. Down its shiny black top is a silver strip for four-way touch-scrolling, making it simpler to navigate the tiled, Windows 8 start screen. It's also priced at $49.95.

Finally, a new Touch Mouse is said to have "updated functionality specifically designed for Windows 8, with new gesture settings to easily navigate the new UI."

Users can swipe with a single finger, to navigate up and down or side to side; two-finger movements manage apps, switch through open apps and show app commands; and three-finger gestures navigate forward and backward within apps.

Pricing is estimated at $79.95

"Our new mice and keyboards really light up Windows, provide fast and fluid navigation, increased productivity and enhanced mobility in sleek, stylish design, " Brett Kelleran, general manager of Microsoft Hardware, a seemingly new (if not newly branded) division, said in a statement.

Microsoft is expected to introduce Windows 8 early into the fourth quarter, waving the checkered flag for hardware partners, such as Acer, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, to introduce their own Windows 8-running tablets, and likely also keyboards and mice.

That Microsoft introduced its own tablet€”taking the matter of ensuring the success of a Windows 8 tablet into its own hands€”speaks volumes of Microsoft's desire to catch up to Apple.

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, in a June 19 report, neatly condensed those volumes, writing, "The iPad terrifies Microsoft."