Microsoft has unveiled a brand-new competitor to the iPad, named the Surface tablet.
The company unveiled two tablet devices running the next generation of its touch-focused operating system at a major event at Milk Studios in Hollywood.
The first runs Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 which includes only its tile-based 'Metro' interface.
The second Surface tablet runs Windows 8 Pro and an Intel processor, and that also includes the familiar desktop, start menu and task bar.
The tablets are very thin - 9.3mm for the RT version and slightly thicker for the Pro at 13.5mm - have a 10.6inch display and are made of magnesium which is both very rigid and very light. The tablets also include a built-in stand, front and rear webcams, dual microphones, microSD card slots and a USB port.
The devices represent an unusual move for Microsoft, which rarely makes its own hardware, with the exceptions of its Xbox consoles, and its less successful Kin phones and Zune music players.
HANDS ON: What Does The Surface Feel Like To Use?
But while it may seem odd, the unique feature of the surface looks set to be its cover.
Microsoft's 'Touch Cover' is a flat surface with a full, multi-touch keyboard built into it - and also includes a trackpad.
The cover is incredibly thin (about 0.3mm) and files under the case when not in use. The case also has an accelerometer, to tell it when to activate. It will be available in black, blue and pink, as well as two other colours.
Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover.
Microsoft also unveiled another cover with a tactile keyboard, for users who prefer clicking buttons.
Microsoft left some details unclear about the devices - including the battery life of the product, the release date and the price - but said the RT version would have either 32gb or 64gb of memory and the pro would have 64gb or 128gb.
"We approach the product design in a forward looking way," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the event.
"We know most PCs are mobile, and they want access to information and the ability to create content anywhere, anytime."
Analysts welcomed the new products as a "crucial pivot" in the company's strategy, but warned the split between its RT and Pro models risks confusing customers.
“It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically-integrated Apple on more even ground," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.
But she added that Microsoft "will be its own worst enemy in this market".
"Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black or white."
Read more about the Microsoft Surface at the official website.
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