Microsoft today continued its on-going effort to boost the popularity of its Surface tablets by placing the Surface Power Cover keyboard/battery on pre-order - a solid move as tablet sales look to be quieting down this year.

The Surface Power Cover, $199, can be ordered immediately, with Microsoft expecting to ship the accessory by March 19. It is available only in black and works with the Surface 2, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2.

Microsoft said the cover will boost the usefulness of a Surface tablet in two ways. First, it will deliver the same speed and functionality of a regular keyboard and it charges the tablet when connected, extending battery life by about 70 percent. The cover itself is under 10mm thick and houses a full-size QWERTY keyboard with all the usual function keys and an ultra-thin track pad.

When the cover is closed over the tablet's screen it automatically shuts down the power.

Microsoft also has available a keyboard-only version, the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2. The $119 Touch Cover 2 is 2.5mm thick, hosts a backlit keyboard and is spill-resistant. The $129 Type Cover 2 is a backlit mechanical version, available in four colors, including black, purple, cyan and magenta.

Adding these accessories to the mix is probably a good idea for Microsoft and other manufactures, as tablet sales are expected to fall. According to a recent IDC report, tablet shipments will grow at a much slower rate in 2014 as the market becomes more saturated.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, the total tablet market, inclusive of both tablets and 2-in-1 devices, is forecast to grow 19.4 percent in 2014, down from a growth rate of 51.6 percent in 2013. IDC reduced the 2014 forecast by -3.6 percent from its previous projection to 260.9 million units worldwide. The reduction in the short-term forecast was due to slowing consumer purchases as hardware iterations slow and the installed base, particularly in mature markets, continues to grow.

"After years of strong growth, we expect the white-box tablet market to slow in 2014 as consumers move to higher-end devices that work better and last longer," said IDC's Tom Mainelli, Program Vice President, Devices & Displays. "In mature markets, where many buyers have purchased higher-end products from market leaders, consumers are deciding that their current tablets are good enough for the way they use them. Few are feeling compelled to upgrade the same way they did in years past, and that's having an impact on growth rates."

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