Microsoft’s Surface Adaptive Kit Embarrasses Its Rivals

Where’s your accessibility kit, Apple?

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft’s Surface Adaptive Kit makes any computer or tablet easier to use. 
  • It comes from Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab, which designed the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
  • The most innovative accessibility accessories come from 3D printers.
Microsoft's Surface Adaptive Kit laid out on a desktop surface.

Microsoft

Microsoft's Surface Adaptive Kit is so good, every tablet, phone, and laptop should have them.

The Surface Adaptive Kit is essentially a bunch of stick-on accessories for Microsoft's latest tablets. It consists of Braille-inspired tactile stickers—called bump labels—keycap labels, adhesive brackets with wrist straps, and colored port and plug labels.

They're sold as an accessibility add-on, and that's exactly right. These make devices more accessible for anyone, and they're so good they should be available for all devices.

"I think this is one time that Microsoft got the jump on Apple. Apple does have some accessibility features on their products that make it easier for people with disabilities to use their products, but only for their iPhones," Daivat Dholakia, vice president of operations at medical device platform developer Essenvia, told Lifewire via email.

The Surface Adaptive Kit

The Surface Adaptive Kit comes from Microsoft's Inclusive Tech Lab, which is also behind the Xbox Adaptive Controller, designed to meet gamers' needs with limited mobility. It looks like a DJ's twin-turntable setup, or perhaps a cheap two-ring cooking surface for a tiny walkup apartment. 

Closeup of keyboard stickers from the Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit on keyboard keys.

MIcrosoft

Perhaps the best thing about this kit, other than the fact that Microsoft designed it, made it, and will soon sell it, is that you can use it on any device. Want to use one of those stick-on lid-opener brackets to add a wrist strap to your iPhone? Go ahead.

Maybe you keep hitting the volume keys instead of the brightness keys on your MacBook keyboard. No problem. Just use some of these bumpy stickers to mark the correct keys. 

This brings us to a question. Apple is recognized as a world-class provider of accessibility in its software, and rightly so. Accessibility runs deep in macOS, especially iOS, and is a fundamental part of the design, not an add-on. So why isn't Apple making something like the Surface Adaptive Kit?

"Apple's design ethos is pretty aggressively minimalist and integrated. If an adaptive feature can't be included directly into iOS, it's not going to find its way into the physical design," Devon Fata, CEO of user experience consultancy Pixoul, told Lifewire via email. 

Could it be that Apple's obsession with clean lines prevents it from making its devices more accessible? That's a stretch, but a plausible one. More likely is that if Apple did decide to make a kit like Microsoft's, it would be as beautiful as the rest of its products.

Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit sticker on a headphone.

Microsoft

More likely still is that Apple tends to take care of the core parts of its products and let third-party makers do the rest. 

For instance, the software accessibility is class-leading, and Apple's computers are similarly untouchable right now, thanks to the M1 chip and years of refinement. But its built-in apps are rarely more than competent, and sometimes not even that. That leaves space for third-party developers and accessory makers to fill. 

To gauge the overall availability of accessibility add ons, I used a simple trick: I Googled it. As you can see for yourself, add-ons exist for computers, but it's hardly a flourishing market. 

"While this does represent a failure of the tech industry to deliver products for an inclusive audience, some of the best adaptive features out there come from the 3D printing community, usually developed by individuals rather than companies," says Fata. 

Google (and DuckDuckGo) has far more results for 3D-printed accessibility gear than it has shopping results, and not just for computer gear. There are wheelchair cupholders, Parkinson's pill bottles, and even utensil holders, keychains, and products for pets with disabilities

Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit wrist straps on a Microsoft Surface Device.

Microsoft

The beauty of 3D printing is that anyone can design and build complex objects and—more importantly—share them with others. 

Microsoft's Surface Adaptive Kit is a good start, and the very existence of the Inclusive Tech Lab is encouraging. Hopefully, it's the beginning of a trend, but if not, DIY and the 3D-printing community are already here to do the job.

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