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Microsoft unveils 'Surface,' a new challenger to the iPad

Microsoft CorporationApple iPadSoftware IndustryXboxSteve Ballmer

Microsoft wanted a tablet done right, so the company figured it’d give it a try.

CEO Steve Ballmer announced the Microsoft “Surface” family of tablet devices Monday in Los Angeles, a move that sends a clear warning shot across the Apple iPad's bow.

The device is currently slated to come in two versions, one running Microsoft's tablet-specific Windows RT and a power-user version that will run Windows 8. For comparison to the iPad, the 10.6” ClearType HD display is just shy of an inch larger than the latest generation of the Apple tablet. The thickness of the Windows RT version of the Surface is almost exactly the same as the iPad's, while the heft of the RT version is also almost identical to the iPad's. The Windows 8 version of the Surface, however weighs in at a full nine ounces more than the standard iPad.

Where the Surface breaks apart from what one would expect in a tablet is how quickly it transforms into something that looks a lot like a netbook. Both versions of the device have a “Touch Cover” keyboard that attaches to the bottom of the device, adding only millimeters to the Surface's thickness but allowing an expansion in functionality that may have kept some away from tablets until now. In addition to the ability to type on the go, the Windows 8 version will also have a stylus.

Combined with the flip-open keyboard cover, the Surface's built-in kickstand also solves one of the conundrums that hampers tablet-users who want to dive deep into a document or watch a video for an extended amount of time. There are a plethora of after-market stands for existing tablets, but the fold-away stand that comes with the Surface allows it to morph into a productivity machine more so than a toy, a criticism PC loyalists have often lobbed toward the iPad.

The Microsoft way of doing things usually means building software and operating systems that can be mixed and matched with different hardware systems, but Surface is a 100 percent Redmond venture, both in hardware and software. The iPad, which is a proprietary, closed environment carefully maintained by Apple, has asserted dominance in consumer tablets largely because of its ability to control the end-to-end user experience. Microsoft is making a bold step to take a bite out of Apple's market share in tablets using a philosophy as old as the Apple Macintosh. It's also a philosophy that has been successful for the Microsoft Xbox gaming console.

The price and release date for Surface were not revealed by Microsoft on Monday, but it's a safe bet that information will not be far behind this fall's Windows 8 operating system release.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Microsoft CorporationApple iPadSoftware IndustryXboxSteve Ballmer
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