Microsoft Surface: first serious iPad competitor?

The new Microsoft Surface has the capability of a PC and a full multi-touch keyboard.

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    The Microsoft Surface could be made available to coincide with the holiday season.
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Watch out, Apple. Microsoft’s mystery announcement is out of the bag and it’s giving the iPad a run for its money.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Microsoft Surface, a new tablet that heads a “whole new family of Microsoft computing devices,” Ballmer announced at the mystery event at the Milk Studios in Hollywood, Calif., Monday afternoon.

From what we’ve seen and heard, the Surface tablet is perhaps the first serious competitor to Apple’s iPad tablet. What’s more, it’s got the capability of a PC – as good for creating content as it is for consuming, according to Ballmer’s highly anticipated announcement and demo.

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The 1.8-pound device will have a 10.6-inch Gorilla Glass 2.0 screen with a thickness of 9.3 mm. Like the iPad, it’s got a magnetically-connected magnesium case that doubles as a kickstand for viewing video – and it also has a full multi-touch keyboard, a major advantage for users who want a more versatile tablet.

Another advantage? The Surface tablet also comes with Microsoft Word, a full-size USB drive, and can run a full Windows desktop, making it a true tablet computer. It will run on Windows 8. The tablet also comes with digital ink so users can use a magnetic stylus to write on it.

Microsoft hasn’t yet released price points on the Surface tablet, which will be available in later this year, probably timed to the holiday season.

As for e-reading, the Surface tablet may not be ideal: at 10.6 inches, it’s more unwieldy than most books. Readers who want a device solely for reading would probably be better off with a Kindle or Nook. E-reading wasn’t featured at Microsoft’s Monday’s demo.

This device, however, is poised to take a chunk out of the tablet market, especially the corporate tablet market. Unlike Apple, Microsoft is the software of choice for corporate America. With Surface, Microsoft offers security (Apple’s security has always been suspect in most corporate settings) as well as compatibility – existing Microsoft software can run on the Surface tablet.

“If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you,” Ballmer said at Monday’s announcement. “It’s a full PC.”

It may not be ideal for reading, but this is one tablet we’re excited about.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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