Trending: One year later, Microsoft AI and Research grows to 8k people in massive bet on artificial intelligence

In many ways it’s the signature feature of Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablet computer — the magnetically attached cover that doubles as a keyboard. Microsoft says the keyboard/cover will come in two different varieties: one with a touch-sensitive surface, dubbed Touch Cover; and another with slightly raised keys for better typing, dubbed Type Cover.

However, the company hasn’t yet said whether the keyboards will be sold separately or packaged with the tablet.

That’s a pretty significant unanswered question that needs to be taken into account as speculation swirls about the potential price of the Microsoft tablet

We’re highly skeptical that the starting price for the Surface is actually $199, as reported by Engadget earlier this week. But especially if the price is that low, it’s quite possible that people will need to buy the keyboard/cover separately if they want the signature Surface experience.

[Update: Microsoft says on the Surface website that the device “comes with an integrated Kickstand and a revolutionary, 3mm thin, pressure sensitive cover that doubles as a fully functioning keyboard and trackpad,” referring to the Touch Cover version.

Although the company declined to answer my questions this week about how the keyboards will be sold, the phrase “comes with” suggests that the Touch Cover will be included, and the Type Cover will be sold separately. Thanks to Gregg Keizer at Computerworld for pointing this out.]

Wall Street analyst Rick Sherlund, who has covered Microsoft since it went public, also threw cold water on the pricing rumors.

“We do not believe that Microsoft will price Surface at $199, but rather that it would be priced in a similar range with the iPad (around $500),” he wrote in a note to clients. “The report suggests that Microsoft would potentially price its announced Surface device at $199; this is well below the (bill of materials) of probably $300 and would, we think, undermine its OEM partners and thus we firmly believe this will not be the case.”

Microsoft said the Surface price will be comparable to other tablets based on ARM processors (i.e., the iPad), and the version for x86 chips will be in the range of ultrabook PC prices.

Acer’s CEO JT Wang last week told the Financial Times that Microsoft should “think twice” about creating its own tablet, due to the potential impact on its PC partners.

Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing wasn’t nearly as pointed in his comments on the subject during the company’s earnings conference call.

“Although we don’t like Microsoft providing hardware, for us, it just adds one more competitor,” he told analysts, according to CNet News. “[They’re] just one of our many competitors. We are still confident that we are providing much better hardware than our competitors including Microsoft.”

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