The venerable laptop has proven a master of integration. Notebook PCs reigned components of the desktop PC components — including keyboards, mice, monitors, speakers, microphones, webcams, and expansion cards — into convenient book-like packages. While never reaching ergonomic perfection, they have nonetheless evolved over the years to pack more power into ever slimmer packages.
The first iPad initially continued the trend, doing away with the keyboard and trackpad, in effect, the lower half of the iconic clamshell. But then, slowly at first, came the accessories. Apple had actually produced a not very portable keyboard dock for the first iPad, but Microsoft offered the keyboard cover as the must-have accessory with the first Surface. And because the Surface fully supported Windows, a Bluetooth or even wired mouse wasn’t out of the picture. Oh, and let’s not forget the Surface Pen.
Soon, with the exception of mice (unsupported on iOS), Apple matched Microsoft with its own keyboard case and Apple Pencil for the iPad. And now, with the ChromeOS-based Pixel Slate, Google has joined the tablet add-on pile-on with its own keyboard cover and pen. And as the Pixel Slate and the newest iPad Pro support USB-C, they join the Surface in supporting a slew of USB-C accessories such as the USB-C-driven Vinpok Split external monitor.
At minimum, all of these topped-off tablets can now handle the core functionality of and ape most of the ergonomics of the laptop. But with all these snap-on parts, have we created magnetic monsters? Certainly on a pure business level, accessories have always been welcomed by electronics brands and retailers that tend to make more profit per item on these products than the base device. That said, at Apple’s introduction of the iPad Pro, the company offered its own take on the spread of gadgets surrounding the naked tablet. The company positioned them as a modular system, one that gets progressively more functional as opposed to taking on different optimizations as the Moto Z phone with its Moto Mods does.
In a way, that makes sense. Experientially little more than a software-defined touchscreen, the slate represents the purest implementation we’ve had of a mobile computing core. One can also see why Apple in particular would espouse such a view. While Microsoft’s and Google’s latest flagship slates grew up in a keyboard-centric world, the iPad is most optimized for its unadorned state. Indeed, while the keyboard folio got the attention at the introduction of the iPad Pro, Apple still offers keyboard-free Smart Folios for those who would rather use the original mode of relying on the screen for keyboard input, even for its largest iPad.
In contrast, while Microsoft and Google will both sell you an unadorned tablet, the Surface’s Keyboard Cover and the Pixel Slate’s keyboard folio are far more of an integral part of their experience (in part because both also offer trackpads). Other 2-in-1/detachable Windows PC vendors, such as Samsung with its Galaxy Book, have abandoned the distinction and just put the keyboard folio in the box.
Re-edited from an article originally posted on zdnet.com