Microsoft's research division has unveiled a prototype add-on for the Surface tablet family, a keyboard cover which includes an integrated e-ink electrophoretic display and touchpad area.
The idea of integrated displays into keyboards isn't new: early portable microcomputers such as the Cambridge Computers Z88, TRS80 Model 100, and the Epson HX-20 frequently included a small liquid-crystal display above the keys as a means of providing on-the-go access in lieu of a traditional display device. In 2009, Microsoft unveiled the Adaptive Keyboard which followed a similar design: a touch-sensitive display atop a more traditional keyboard layout, albeit one which borrowed the Optimus trick of placing an OLED display beneath each key in order to provide full customisation.
The DisplayCover, unveiled this week by Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group, is the logical continuation of this concept, building on the replaceable interactive cover feature of the company's Surface range of tablets. Designed as a more feature-packed alternative to the existing keyboard and touchpad covers, the DisplayCover includes a full keyboard below a wide touch-sensitive display - the same layout, in other words, as the Adaptive Keyboard.
Where the DisplayCover differs, aside from the loss of OLED keys in favour of standard laser-etched plastic, is that the display is based on an e-ink electrophoretic display. Unlike traditional liquid-crystal displays, e-ink requires power only when changing states and has no active lighting - meaning it doesn't drain the tablet's battery. With a resolution of 1,280x305, the secondary display offers an eight per cent increase in display area when paired with a Surface tablet with Full HD 1080p display panel.
Sadly for Surface owners who like the idea of a secondary, low-power, touch-sensitive display surface capable of displaying everything from general operating system shortcuts and Live Tiles through to application-specific functions, the company has not announced plans to bring the DisplayCover, currently in prototype form, to market. More information on the project is available from the official website
, while the prototype can be seen in action in the below video.