Microsoft unveils 'Surface' tablet to compete with Apple's iPad

Microsoft has an answer to the iPad, and its name is Surface.

CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand to announce the company's new entry into the tablet space at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, calling it part of a "whole new family of devices" the company is developing.

Microsoft has been hit and miss in the hardware market, and when the company misses, it does so epically -- remember the Zune? But Microsoft's hardware successes have become billion-dollar innovations as well, such as the Xbox or the mouse, which Microsoft pioneered.

The market will decide whether the new Surface is a hit, but it sure has the look of one -- and it flies in the face of 35 years of partnerships with other companies, of putting Microsoft's software on other manufacturer's computers.

'It's a different world now and [Surface is] trying to put the sexy back into the Microsoft brand.'

— Gartner Inc. analyst Carolina Milanesi

That said, it's a gorgeous device.

"They are saying it's a different world now and are trying to put the sexy back into the Microsoft brand," explained Gartner Inc. analyst Carolina Milanesi.

One version of the device, which won't go on sale until sometime in the fall, is 9.3 millimeters thick and works on the Windows RT operating system. It comes with a kickstand to hold it upright and a touch keyboard cover that snaps on using magnets. The device weighs under 1.5 pounds and will cost about as much as other tablet computers. Its debut is set to coincide with the upcoming fall release of Microsoft's much-anticipated Windows 8 operating system.

A slightly thicker version -- still less than 14 millimeters and under 2 pounds -- will work on Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 Pro operating system and cost as much as an ultrabook, the company said. The Pro version comes with a stylus that allows users to make handwritten notes on documents such as PDFs.

Each tablet comes with a well thought-out keyboard cover that is just 3 millimeters thick. The kickstand for both tablets is just 0.7 millimeters, less than the thickness of a credit card.

Microsoft has been making software for tablets since 2002, when it shipped the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Many big PC makers produced tablets that ran the software, but they were never big sellers. The tablets were based on PC technology, and were heavy, with short battery lives.

Microsoft didn't say how long the Surface would last on battery power.

The more hands-on approach with its tablet indicates that Microsoft either lacks confidence in the ability of its PC partners to design compelling alternatives to Apple's iPad or it believes it needs more control to ensure Windows plays a major role in the increasingly important mobile computing market.

Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows division, called the device a "tablet that's a great PC --a PC that's a great tablet."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.