Software giant Microsoft unveiled its first tablet computer, Surface, in a major hardware launch clearly designed to take on long-term rival Apple's market-ruling iPad. Microsoft has unveiled Surface, a tablet computer to compete with Apple's iPad.
Chief executive Steve Ballmer described the iPad challenger -- complete with a built-in stand and ultra thin covers-cum-keyboards in a range of colors -- as a tablet that "works and plays."
CEO Steve Ballmer announced the new tablet, calling it part of a "whole new family of devices" the company is developing.
One version of the device, which won't go on sale until sometime in the fall, is 9.3 millimetres thick and works on the Windows RT operating system. It comes with a kickstand to hold it upright and a touch keyboard cover that snaps on using magnets. The device weighs under 1.5 pounds and will cost about as much as other tablet computers.
The size is similar to the latest iPad, which is 9.4 millimetres thick and weighs 1.3 pounds. Microsoft also promised that the Surface's price tag will be similar to the iPad, which sells for $499 to $829, depending on the model.
Microsoft's broadside against the iPad is a dramatic step to ensure that its Windows software plays a major role in the increasingly important mobile computing market.
The Surface is a PC, the Surface is a tablet, and the Surface is something new that we think people will absolutely love, he said at an hour-long presentation in a Hollywood design studio.
No prices or release dates were given, but the Surface is expected to go on sale in the fall, with retail prices "competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class" computers, Microsoft said.
There were spontaneous bursts of applause and whoops from tech journalists and bloggers as key features of the new tablet, which has a slightly bigger screen than the iPad, but in wide-screen movie-style 16:9 format.
"They are saying it's a different world now and are trying to put the sexy back into the Microsoft brand," said Gartner Inc. analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Each tablet comes with a keyboard cover that is just 3 millimetres thick. The kickstand for both tablets was just 0.7 millimetres thick, less than the thickness of a credit card.
Microsoft, which built its fortune by specializing in software and leaving the job of making computers or other devices to partners, has had mixed results from its hardware ventures.
"This product marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft's product strategy," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.
"We designed this like a book. This spine feels like a book," Michael Angiulo, vice president for Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem told the audience.
The Surface features a flip-out rear "kickstand" to prop it up like a picture frame and can be combined with a 3mm-thick Touch Cover that, when opened, acts as a keypad so tablets could be switched into "desktop" mode.
There is also a 5 mm-thick Type Cover with moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.
A version of the Surface tablet running on Windows RT software tailored for ARM mobile device chips will measure 9.3 millimeters thick and weigh 676 grams.
It boasts a 10.6-inch (26.9 centimeter) high-definition screen and will be available with 32 or 64 gigabytes of memory. A model powered by Windows 8 Pro weighs 903 grams and will be available with 64 or 128 gigabytes of memory.
Research In Motion's attempt last year to challenge Apple's dominance in the tablet market failed to deliver a threat to the iPad.
Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, called the device a tablet that's a great PC — a PC that's a great tablet.