[caption id="attachment_6785" align="aligncenter" width="570"] Tablets with detachable keyboards: way of the future, or interesting sideshow?[/caption] Not content to let Microsoft’s Surface dominate any market for Windows tablets, Nokia is reportedly prepping a Windows RT tablet for release early next year. But according to The Verge, the similarities between Surface and Nokia’s rumored device aren’t limited to Windows running on a touch-screen: the Finnish device-maker plans on releasing a “special cover” that doubles as a keyboard and kickstand. “Nokia has also built a battery into the cover that can be used to power the tablet once it runs low on energy,” read the publication’s Dec. 24 posting, which drew its information from the always-popular unnamed sources. “Two USB ports on the case will also provide additional connectivity. We understand that the main tablet will have a 10-hour capacity with fast charging that boosts the battery capacity to 50 percent in a short period of time.” Nokia, of course, isn’t commenting on any rumors. Microsoft has focused on the optional keyboard-cover as a key selling point for Surface, its flagship Windows tablet. Advertisements emphasize clicking tablet and cover together to create an ultra-portable laptop. Surface represents a huge gamble for Microsoft: should it fail to earn an audience, the resulting fallout could hobble the company’s ambitions to build more of its devices in-house, as opposed to relying on its hardware partners—and that, in turn, could wreck CEO Steve Ballmer’s plan to reorient Microsoft into more of a “devices and services company.” Surface’s success or failure won’t rest on that keyboard, but whether Microsoft can sell the device to multiple demographics: not only the consumers who made the iPad and the Kindle Fire such a hit, but also businesses that want to give their employees a touch-screen that runs Windows. It’s an open question whether Microsoft’s decision to ship Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 built to run on the ARM chip architecture that powers much of the tablet market, will ultimately harm its attempts; While Windows RT looks virtually identical to the x86-based Windows 8, it can’t run Windows legacy software, something that could anger any customers who thought they were buying a “full” Windows device. Surface’s flexible keyboard is part of that strategy of appealing to all demographics. You can imagine the meeting where some developer or manager first tossed out the idea: “With a keyboard, we’ll get all those users who want to do lots of heavy-duty work on a tablet!” But Apple has managed to sell tens of millions of iPads without pairing that device with a flexible keyboard; and with early Surface sales apparently “modest,” it’s questionable whether an optional accessory (no matter how useful) can prove the necessary element to make any device a runaway bestseller. Nonetheless, if The Verge report holds true, Nokia is prepared to head down the same road as Surface. The rumor-mill might be focused on the keyboard, but it’s other things—including a sizable app store and solid hardware—that will ultimately determine whether such a tablet enjoys some success on the open market.   Image: Microsoft