On Monday, Microsoft announced several new mice and keyboards, several of which incorporate new, dedicated keys and gestures specifically designed for Windows 8. The new devices continue Microsoft’s move into Windows 8 hardward that started with the announcement of the Surface tablet in June.
One of the new devices, the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard, includes a cover that can fold back into a tablet stand, giving existing Windows tablet owners like the Samsung Series 7 their own Surface-like tablet cover. While that’s a nice touch that users should approve of, those same users may beconfused by the new Windows 8 touch gestures within the Microsoft Touch Mouse.
For its part, in an SEC filing, Microsoft confirmed that the new Surface tablet will be released on Oct. 26, consistent with previous statements that executives have made that Surface would be released at the same time as Windows 8. (The professional version of the Surface - aimed at businesses with an Intel Core chip and a native version of Windows 8 - is due 90 days later - or about the end of January 2012.)
Microsoft announced five new products: the Wedge Touch Mouse ($69.95), the Wedge Touch Keyboard ($79.95), plus the Sculpt Touch Mouse ($49.95), the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard ($49.95) and an update to the existing Microsoft Touch Mouse ($79.95). They all use Bluetooth to connect. All five will be released over the next “weeks and months,” Microsoft said, although it’s virtually guaranteed that all five will be in the market before Windows 8 ships to consumers in October.
Windows 8 Features
Prospective Windows 8 users will want to pay close attention to the new keyboards' “Windows 8 Hot Keys,” as well as the new gesture features incorporated by the Microsoft Touch Mouse.
On the top row of the Sculpt Mobile and Wedge Mobile keyboards, lie four new keys: “Search,” “Share,” “Devices,” and “Settings”. These represent the new Windows 8 hot keys, taking functions that have traditionally been incorporated as mobile phones and placing them front-and-center (almost literally!) within the keyboard environment. Unlike competitors like Logitech, Microsoft hardware has traditionally subsumed the traditional “F1-F12” function keys in favor of more commonly used shortcuts, such as keys to adjust the volume or brightness. That approach continues here.
Finally, the new Windows 8 “windowpane” logo now appears on top of the Windows logo key. All of the keys are spaced across the Sculpt Mobile keyboard, which curves at six degrees for comfort.
The Wedge Mobile keyboard lacks the ergonomic curve. Instead, it comes with a durable keyboard cover that doubles as a tablet stand. When not in use, it snaps over the top of the keyboard, turning it off and saving power.
Of course, one of the innovative features of the Surface is the option of an integrated tablet cover, which includes a keyboard. While it’s too soon to evaluate the new keyboards, Microsoft’s Wedge Mobile keyboard looks similar to the upgraded Surface keyboard, known as the Type Cover.
Windows 8 Gestures
In addition to the new hardware, Microsoft also announced new Windows 8 gestures, includomg one-, two-, and three-finger positioning: basically, one finger navigation will scroll through content, two for apps and three for zooming. The latter may be a bit confusing for people used to the two-finger “pinch to zoom” gesture now supported on most mobile devices.
In fact, many of the new gestures will take some getting used to. Scrolling around a page is simple enough; one finger can swipe the page up, down, left or right, and a more forceful flick will scroll even further.
From there, it gets a bit puzzling. If you scroll right with a thumb - not a finger - Windows 8 will scroll through the available apps. Sliding two fingers to the right will navigate through open apps. A two-finger slide to the left will bring up the four Windows 8 charms: Search, Share, Devices and Settings. Sliding forward and backward - up and down, presumably - will open app commands. Sliding three fingers forward and backward will zoom in and out. Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc posted a handy cheat sheet in his blog post announcing the new hardware. It might be a good idea to print that out before attempting the new gestures.
The Windows 8 gestures will be available only on the more expensive Touch Mouse, however. The Sculpt Touch Mouse is an otherwise ordinary-looking travel mouse, while the Wedge Mouse uses an aggressively styled wedge shape that Microsoft claims is small enough to fit in a pocket. Both allow vertical and horizontal touch scrolling, which Microsoft touts as enough for navigating through the main Start screen of Windows 8.
The new hardware choices look impressive - and seem to make good use of Windows 8. But Microsoft could be getting ahead of itself by coming up with new gestures to replace those already known by many users. It sounds confusing, for example, to use a three-finger gesture to zoom in and out with a mouse that also includes left- and right-click buttons.
Overall, Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8 just got even more ambitious.