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Microsoft is to take on Apple in a war of the tablet computers with the launch of its own ‘iPad killer’ – the Surface.
It is a dramatic move for the US technology company, which historically has focused on producing software rather than hardware.
But after some success with the Xbox series of entertainment consoles, it now hopes to challenge Apple and Android in the lucrative touchscreen tablet market.
Surface comes with a number of features which make it more similar to a laptop than a tablet – most notably, a built-in keyboard which could help the device appeal more to business customers.
And the fact that Microsoft is using the same Windows 8 operating system for the Surface as for laptop and desktop computers could mean that customers will find it easier to switch between different devices.
CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand at a press conference in Los Angeles to announce the tablet, calling it part of a ‘whole new family of devices’ the company is developing.
The 9.3mm-thick tablet, which uses the RT version of Windows, comes with a kickstand to hold it upright and keyboard that is part of the device’s cover. It weighs under 1.5 pounds.
In a possible nod to the device’s chief rival, it will apparently be 0.1mm thinner than the latest iPad.
A slightly thicker version – still less than 14mm thick and under two pounds – will work on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 Pro operating system.
Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, called the device a ‘tablet that’s a great PC – a PC that’s a great tablet.’
They will be available when Windows 8 ships later this year, according to a Microsoft statement.
No details on pricing were mentioned, except that it would be ‘comparable’ with current ARM tablets and Intel-powered Ultrabooks.
Microsoft has been making software for tablets since 2002, when it shipped the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.
Many big PC makers produced tablets that ran the software, but they were never big sellers. The tablets were based on PC technology, and were heavy, with short battery lives.
Launching its own tablet potentially throws Microsoft into direct competition with its closest hardware partners such as Samsung and Hewlett-Packard.
The price of the tablet, which will come in 32GB and 64GB versions, has not been revealed, but the 32GB iPad costs from £479. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said the tablet will be an entertainment device ‘without compromising the productivity that PCs are uniquely known for’.
Apple has sold 67million iPads in the past two years, and Microsoft is keen to grab a piece of a market where analysts predict sales will top 180million a year in 2013.
But industry experts questioned whether the company could mount a serious challenge to Apple.
Sarah Rotman Epps, of technology analysts Forrester, said Microsoft had to spell out how the Surface would be different from the iPad.
She added: ‘They need to explain how Microsoft manufacturing this device will change people’s experience with a tablet.’