Microsoft takes on iPad with Surface tablets

Having announced last week that the firm was set to make a key announcement, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, unveiled two new tablet PCs at a closely guarded press event in Los Angeles.

He said the new devices – called Surface – were part of a “whole new family of devices” the company is developing.

The devices will run versions of Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 operating system, a system the company hopes will allow it to make up ground in mobile computing lost to Apple and Google’s Android.

“We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations,” Ballmer said.

Analysts gave the as yet unpriced devices a cautious welcome. “From a design perspective it looks great,” said Carolina Milanesi at Gartner.

She said the device looked like a serious competitor to Apple’s best-selling iPad but success would depend on price and the apps available for the devices.

Powerful machine
The 9.3mm thick device has a magnesium case, features a 10.6-inch HD widescreen display, an integrated kickstand and weighs less than a kilogram. The device comes with a detachable keyboard and trackpad that attach magnetically to the tablet.

Apple has so far seen off most of its competitors in the tablet computers market including Blackberry maker Research in Motion and Hewlett Packard. Amazon’s Kindle has challenged Apple’s dominance but with a far less versatile and powerful machine.

In 2011 Apple sold over 40-million iPads, out of worldwide tablet sales of 60 million.

At the presentation, Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, stressed Surface’s computing power.

Sinofsky called the device a “tablet that’s a great PC – a PC that’s a great tablet”.

Competitive space
Milanesi said the Surface might appeal to business users already used to Microsoft software, an area where Apple has been making inroads with iPads and iPhones. “It is certainly a very competitive product in that space,” she said.

The company did not reveal pricing or release dates but at the event Sinofsky said it would be “priced like comparable tablets.”

Milanesi said she expected the Surface to cost less than $699 in the US and be launched before the all-important Christmas selling season.

The tech firm has a spotty record in launching its own hardware products and has usually left the making of hardware to partners such as Dell or Hewlett Packard.

While Microsoft’s Xbox video gaming system is a world leader, its iPod rival Zune and Kin telephones proved disasters. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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