LOS ANGELES -- In its most strategically significant push yet into the hardware business, Microsoft on Monday unveiled a tablet computer called Surface that is intended to challenge Apple's iPad.
At an event in Los Angeles, the company showed off the device, which is about the same weight and thickness as an iPad, with a 10.6-inch screen. The tablet has a built-in "kickstand" that will allow users to prop it up for watching movies, and a thin detachable cover that will serve double duty as a keyboard.
The Surface tablet runs a variation of Windows 8, a forthcoming version of Microsoft's flagship operating system. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, said the product was part of a longstanding tradition at Microsoft to create hardware, such as computer mice, that show off innovations in its software. "We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations," he said.
Microsoft's decision to create its own tablet was an acknowledgment that the company needed to depart from its regular way of doing business to get a grip on a threat to its dominance in computing.
While it has made a few hardware products over the years, including the Xbox video game console, Zune music player and computer keyboards, Microsoft is still thought of largely as a software company. For decades in the computer business, it has left the work of creating the machines that run the Windows operating system to Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others.
But the response to Apple's iPad has considerably raised consumers' expectations of how well hardware and software work together. That has put pressure on Microsoft to create a tighter marriage of hardware and software if it is to compete seriously with Apple's products.
Microsoft said one version of the Surface tablet would come with 32 gigabytes or 64 gigabytes of storage and feature a type of chip called ARM that is commonly used in mobile devices. Steven Sinfosky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, said the price would be comparable to that of other tablets that use ARM chips.
He said a professional version of the tablet would come with an Intel processor, which is standard in more conventional PCs, and would be similar in price to ultrabooks -- thin laptops that often start at around $1,000.
Mr. Sinfosky said the ARM tablet would be available when the next version of Windows is released, which is expected to be sometime around October, and the professional version would go on sale a few months later.
As it prepares to release Windows 8, which is designed for touch-screen devices, Microsoft can ill-afford a flop. The iPad has eaten into sales of low-end Windows laptops, and there are growing signs that Apple's tablet is becoming increasingly attractive to business customers, a lucrative market that Microsoft has dominated for years.
Creating hardware, though, is not Microsoft's forte. The Zune bombed and has been discontinued. Several years ago, Microsoft had to take a charge of more than $1 billion to cover the cost of fixing defective Xboxes after making mistakes in the design of the system.
First Published June 19, 2012 4:00 AM