Accessories are the Windows 8 tablet achilles heel

One of the most frustrating aspects of the last three months in the world of Windows tablets is the non-availability of accessories.  Oh plenty were announced, but even today they can be hard to find.  Or impossible.  Or don’t live up to the hype.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro (DV8P) was one of the most in-demand tablets of this holiday season, but Dell has struggled with the availability and quality of its accessories.  The active stylus that was announced with the tablet became available, received poor reviews, and has now disappeared from the Dell website.  Hopefully this is a temporary measure while they address the stylus’ quality issues, because I know a lot of DV8P purchasers were looking forward to this accessory.

When the DV8P was launched there was also the promise of a keyboard accessory.  The limited description suggested that the keyboard would fold over on to the display and act as a cover.  After months of waiting the Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard finally started shipping in the last week or so.  Mine arrived yesterday.  It arrives as a case (that is different from the Dell Folio) and a Bluetooth keyboard.  The case includes a cover flap that folds behind the tablet and under the holder for the (unavailable) active stylus.  The keyboard can hold on to the outer case cover using magnets, but those magnets are so weak you might be tempted to think Dell actually left the feature out.  The keyboard is used totally detached from the cover or device, the magnets are purely intended as a means of making the combo easier to carry.  But the weakness of the magnets, and the flexibility of the cover, mean you can never trust the keyboard to reliably cling to it in transport.  Dell really needed to add a strap to hold everything together.

The new case is a tad lighter than the Folio (6.2oz vs. 6.4oz) but only allows you to prop up the DV8P in a single viewing angle.  The Folio is much more flexible for viewing angles, but won’t allow the keyboard to be right up against the tablet, which probably explains the design change.  I find the new case’s stand design results in too much give when you try to touch the screen, leading to lack of recognition of touches or gestures  The keyboard itself weighs 8oz.  So add the case and keyboard to the 13.5oz DV8P and you are carrying around a 1lb 12oz package.  So a little on the heavy side as you’d have to figure a more Surface-like keyboard cover would allow for similar functionality that was 4-8oz lighter.  But quite competitive when you look at the iPad Mini plus a third party keyboard case.

My biggest problem with the keyboard arrangement is that it is very much in the way when you don’t want to use it, making the DV8P clumsy as a tablet.  Or you must have somewhere you can put down the keyboard out-of-the-way.  So the bottom line is that this is a keyboard you’ll probably leave in your briefcase or handbag for retrieval when you absolutely need it, not something you’ll keep with the DV8P at all times.  In that case any Bluetooth keyboard would do as well.  And the Folio is probably a better case.  So I rate this one a miss on Dell’s part and don’t really recommend it.

For a while I was considering getting a Nokia Lumia 2520, but I’ve heard its battery keyboard cover made the combination quite weighty.  So I’ve been trying to see one before buying but they are nowhere to be found.  A sales rep at the Microsoft Store said they weren’t out yet.  A sales rep at an AT&T store said they’ve seen exactly one, and the product manager at AT&T responsible for them won’t answer the store’s requests for information about availability.  One piece of good news for Microsoft is that the AT&T rep said the 2520 is doing well for them.  They only get one or two per shipment and those are immediately snatched up.  I think this is a case where AT&T wants to do a good job selling the 2520 but is being held back by Nokia.

At this point the 2520 has probably missed the window where I would buy it as I’d rather wait to see what a Surface with LTE support, or another OEM, brings to the market for my next 10″ class tablet.  So Nokia loses a sale because they couldn’t get the accessories into the market in a timely fashion.

Then there is the Surface Pro dock many people have been waiting for.  Microsoft always said it was an early 2014 item, despite a few trickling through the system in 2013.  Well, it’s early 2014 and I still can’t get a dock.  Microsoft also announced a powered version of the Type Cover for early 2014, but I haven’t heard a peep about it since then.  The Microsoft Stores (and Best Buy, etc.) I’ve visited have plenty of first generation Touch covers available, but the much improved second generation Touch Cover 2 is rarely seen.  I know a lot of first generation Surface owners who wanted the Touch Cover 2 as an upgrade, so availability problems cost Microsoft some money last quarter.

A lot of 8″ tablets have micro-USB connectors so you need an adapter cable to connect USB peripherals.  These cables are nearly impossible to find in a brick-and-mortar retail store.  I’d almost suggest that one should be included in the box with the tablet, but of course that makes no sense when you are trying to absolutely minimize the price of the tablet.  I’d rather see the price of the DV8P and similar spec devices driven to the $199 range than burden them with costs that prevent it.  But it sure would make sense to offer the micro-USB to USB cable as an option when ordering these tablets, and encourage retail stores to carry them.  Using my favorite example of the problem here is my Fitbit.  It requires a USB dongle attached to the Windows device.  So now, even with the Metro version of the Fitbit app supporting syncing, I can’t use my DV8P to sync until I get my hands on that cable.

The good news is that accessories are finally starting to trickle into the market, both from the device vendors and third parties.  You can tell how popular the DV8P has become by the number of vendors now claiming to have custom cases for them.  Too bad those aren’t showing up in brick-and-mortar retailers.  But the sad truth for 2013 is that vendors left a lot of money on the table by failing to have accessories in the market when people where buying devices.  And they probably lost device sales as well when buyers were comparing Windows 8 tablets against the iPad/iPad Mini and Android devices with their very rich accessory ecosystems.

Now that Windows 8 tablets have somewhat broken through its critical that device makers focus on having a rich accessory ecosystem that can flood the market with appropriate accessories very near to device introduction.

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10 Responses to Accessories are the Windows 8 tablet achilles heel

  1. Bob - Former DECie says:

    Thanks for answering my “What stylus?” response to you in another post. It sounds like I’ll want to pick one up when Dell fixes their problem.
    I’ve been debating getting the folio case for my DV8P. I’m glad to hear it wouldn’t be a bad choice if I choose to go that route. At this point in time, I don’t think I’m going to want a keyboard. My wife was given a bluetooth keyboard/case for her 7″ Samsung tablet and the keys were so small you couldn’t touch type with it and as such was no better than the virtual keyboard on the tablet.

    • halberenson says:

      The small keyboards definitely take getting used to before they are more productive than an on screen keyboard. They probably make sense for some scenarios, and I’m glad I own one. But it didn’t have to be DELL’S and I likely will keep it in my briefcase instead of carrying it constantly.

  2. jkavanagh58 says:

    Very well stated. I have also stated this being an issue with WindowsPhone and Zune before that. I love my SurfacePro and rely on the Microsoft store for accessories, otherwise you are guessing if the accessory will work or truly be applicable.

  3. For a while, I wondered if MS would encourage other PC vendors to build to the same form factor as Surface, and license the magnetic keyboard attachment. It would give the accessory ecosystem for Windows 8 tablets something to unify around, and provide better volumes, more choices and and lower prices.

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      That would be nice, but since they are becoming a devices and services company, I’m not sure they would want to do that.

  4. Ry Jones says:

    The proposed dock is all screwed up, too. The Surface Pro seems to me to be perfect for car automation, but all of the solutions for attaching stuff are clown shoes. I want a nice dock I can mount on an arm where the Surface snaps in and out; currently, you have to plug everything in (gross and uncool looking) or home the forthcoming dock has some way to mount it without inhibiting the expansion / connecting process.

  5. Tanj says:

    Still waiting for my DV8P stylus, darn. Delayed twice now. I love the DV8P much more than expected. I don’t need a case (fits in coat pocket now it is winter) but do want a portrait stand. Small enough to be propped up with ad-hoc materials usually.
    However, micro USB cables are common as dirt, puzzled you can’t find one. Try a drug store electronics counter, or anywhere they sell phone accessories.

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