There are plenty of keyboard designed for use with tablets, allowing you to use a touch-only device like a laptop. But while keyboards make it easier to tap out text quickly, they could do so much more.
Microsoft has developed a prototype of a new type of keyboard cover with a built-in E Ink touchscreen above the Fn keys. The Microsoft DisplayCover can display different graphics depending on what you’re doing with the keyboard and tablet.
For example, the 1280 x 305 pixel E Ink display could show Windows Live Tiles. Tap one to launch an app, or just glance down to see up-to-date info about incoming messages, weather conditions, or other information.
Since E Ink only consumes electricity when the graphics are change, the inclusion of the display shouldn’t have much effect on the battery life of the keyboard.
Or you can use the touch-sensitive area to swipe, scroll, or tap the same way you would with a traditional laptop touchpad. But since the DisplayCover has a wide touch surface that stretches from one end of the keyboard to the other, you’ve got more room for multi-hand gestures as well as multi-finger pinch or twist-style gestures.
You could also use a digital pen to write on the screen. That could come in handy if you don’t want to separate the tablet from the keyboard and pick it up or lie it down flat just to write a few words.
The DisplayCover is a concept from the Microsoft Applied Sciences team, and it’s not clear if it’ll ever be turned into a real product. But for the right price, it could be an interesting option for getting more use out of devices with small displays.
Microsoft says DisplayCover is designed to extend the available screen real estate of a small-screened tablet like a Microsoft Surface by up to 8 percent. For instance, you could open Photoshop and view icons for your tools below the screen while the image you’re manipulating fills the tablet screen.
You could also view thumbnail photos from a gallery on the DisplayCover, and then tap a picture to open it in full-screen on the tablet, or compose email messages on the DisplayCover while watching a full-screen video or making a video call.