Microsoft’s Free Keyboard Cover Makes Surface RT Whole

A limited-time offer finally makes the most interesting part of Microsoft's tablet part of the standard package.

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Wanna buy one of Microsoft’s Surface RT tablets? Assuming you live in the U.S. or Canada, the company is now throwing in one of its Touch Cover or Type Cover keyboard add-ons at no extra charge. It’s a limited-time offer, although the company isn’t saying when it will end.

Normally, you can get a Surface RT with a Touch Cover for $100 extra; that cover is $120 when purchased separately, and the Touch Cover Limited Edition and Type Cover are $130 apiece. So the free-cover offer is a deal.

But the dollars and cents are less interesting than the fact that the offer turns Surface RT from a tablet with an optional keyboard cover into a tablet that comes with a keyboard cover. Both the Touch and Type covers are ingenious: they’re remarkably thin, draw power from the Surface and get out of the way when you don’t need them. They’re the most special thing about Surface, and the thing that Microsoft chooses to spotlight in Surface ads:

The fact that the Surface’s most noteworthy feature was optional was always weird. Presumably, it was an artifact of Microsoft wanting to match the iPad’s $499 starting price without eating the cost of the keyboard covers. Now, as long as the special offer is in effect, it is eating that cost. (Surface Pro, which starts at $899, isn’t really a direct iPad competitor, and isn’t part of the special offer.)

Seven months have passed since Surface RT’s debut. Despite all the attention it’s gotten and Microsoft’s advertising blitz, it barely seems to be a blip in the tablet market, saleswise. The product has faced multiple challenges: For the first part of its life, for instance, the only retail stores that sold it were those in its creator’s tiny Microsoft Store chain.

It remains a Windows-branded computer that can’t run conventional Windows software, a fact which is difficult to explain to normal everyday folks who aren’t obsessed with technology. And it’s still tough for Microsoft or anyone else to make a case that many people would be better off with one than with an iPad, especially given the humongous disparity in third-party apps.

But I still wonder: Would Surface RT have gotten off to a better start if it had come with that nifty keyboard all along?