Microsoft has unveiled Surface, its own-brand family of tablets, which will be powered by its upcoming Windows 8 system and contains a choice of an Intel or ARM-based processor.
It allows Microsoft to challenge Apple’s bestselling iPad with a device that can run standard applications such as its own Office programs and Photoshop.
But it puts Microsoft in competition with other manufacturers planning to release tablets designed for Windows 8.
The company’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer, said he had wanted to give the software “its own companion hardware”.
The devices have 10.6 inch (26.9 cm) displays, built-in kickstands and are housed in magnesium cases – which the company described as the first of their kind.
The ARM-based tablets are 9.3 mm (0.4 inches) thick – slightly less than the iPad – and run the Windows RT version of the new system. The Verge reported that the chipset will be built by Nvidia.
The versions using Intel’s x86 technology run Windows 8 Pro and are 13.5 mm (0.5 inches) thick.
The specifications mean the Surface tablets have bigger screens than the iPad but are heavier.
A variety of accompanying covers can be attached using built-in magnets. They double as keyboards with trackpads. One version is flat while the other offers keys that can be depressed.
The devices are also designed to work with a pen accessory using what the firm dubbed “digital ink”. When the stylus is held close to the screen of the tablet it ignores touch-input from the users’ hands and “samples” the ink at 600 dpi (dots per inch).
The ARM-based version will be available with either 32 GB (gigabytes) or 64 GB of storage. Microsoft said they would be priced at a similar rate to other tablets using the same type of processor built by other firms.
It added that the Intel-based versions would be offered with either 64 GB or 128 GB of storage and would have price tags comparable to ultrabook laptops.
The firm’s designs have already proved popular with smartphone makers, but Microsoft’s support for its technology in Windows 8 offers it the potential to expand into a market dominated until now by Intel and AMD.
“This represents a significant milestone in Microsoft’s journey to expand the support of the Windows operating system and embrace the ARM architecture,” said Lance Howarth, the firm’s vice president of marketing.
“With the Surface for Windows RT announcement we are delighted to see yet another example of this partnership in action which follows on from various Windows RT devices demonstrated at Taiwan’s Computex show recently.”