Firm takes first step into PC computing with tablet and keyboard combination running new version of Windows operating system
Microsoft has unveiled two own-branded tablet computers running new versions of its Windows operating system designed to wrest back the initiative from tablet leader Apple.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the devices offer “no compromise” between PCs and tablets.
The touchscreen Surface tablets feature a 10.6-inch HD display and a choice of two covers which feature either a traditional hard keyboard or a “pressure-sensitive” keyboard, and a trackpad.
One version of the device comes with an ARM-based processor of the kind used in the majority of modern smartphones, is is 9.3mm thick and runs Windows RT, a new version fo the operating system which resembles Windows Phone.
The other version uses an Intel processor of the type more commonly found in laptops and desktops, is 13.5mm thick and run Windows 8 Pro, the forthcoming Microsoft OS which allows users to switch between a Windows Phone interface and one similar to the existing Windows 7 OS.
The RT version will come with either 32GB or 64GB of memory, while the Pro version will offer 64GB or 128GB.
Both feature front and rear-mounted cameras, a kickstand for supporting the screen at a comfortable viewing angle and use a new material called VapourMG for the chassis.
Both devices have Wi-Fi but no 3G mobile connection.
Though Microsoft has produced its own hardware such as the Xbox game console and the Zune music player, the new tablets mark the first time the firm has entered competition with PC makers who provide the bulk of its revenue by buying licenses for the Windows operating system and other Microsoft software.
Some analysts have suggested that the Surface tablets are aimed primarily at the enterprise market, which is adopting iPads but might prefer a more powerful device with a keyboard.
Others say the Surface tablets mark Microsoft’s attempt to attack Apple in the consumer space.
IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo said: “The hardware designed by Microsoft is aimed at capturing interest from users for a device that combines a PC-like and a tablet experience, so the Surface is clearly targeted at professional users in the first place.
“The physical keyboard and the focus on the MS Office environment show that Microsoft is targeting the business segment, where it can differentiate and take share from Apple.
“The Surface will probably come with the best MS Office experience, the killer application of the device. The keyboard is also a very important accessory for professional usage.
“Hardware-wise Microsoft has done a very good job of launching a device that is exciting and different, but it needs to deliver what it has been promising with the new Windows 8 strategy.
“Consumers will not buy, and specially not pay a premium for, the Surface until they understand the additional value they can get compared with the iPad and how the device integrates with their PCs, gaming consoles, Windows Phones, etc.”