Yep, it’s a tablet: Microsoft introduces the Surface

Microsoft is getting into the tablet hardware business. It showed off a family of new Windows 8-based tablets Monday called Surface at a press event in Hollywood.

Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer took the stage at a small Hollywood production facility, Milk Studios, to introduce the new product, which the company hopes can cut into the dominant tablet-market position currently enjoyed by Apple’s iPad.

Weighing in at just under 1.5 pounds (676 grams), measuring 12 millimeters in depth and arriving with a 10.6-inch diagonal display, the Surface features a magnesium body and has a 3mm-thick magnetic cover that doubles as a keyboard and trackpad.

A family of Surface tablets in various shapes and sizes will be released later this year (specific release dates and pricing were not disclosed). Pro-level iterations will run Windows 8 using chips from Intel, and come in slightly heavier (903 grams) and thicker (13.5mm) configurations; while lower-rung models will run Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 designed for chips based on ARM’s core designs.

Windows RT models will come in 32 and 64 gigabyte versions that will be priced on the level of ARM-based tablets and be available concurrent with the release of Windows 8, Microsoft said.

Windows 8 Pro models will come in 64 and 128GB iterations and be available three months after the release of the Windows RT models.

Microsoft stressed the device’s versatility as both a tablet designed for entertainment consumption (it’s display has a 16:9 aspect ratio optimized for HD) and personal computer use (it also has external USB 2.0 and HDMI ports).

The detachable keyboard, meanwhile, includes a pressure-sensitive technology designed to distinguish between an intentional key stroke an inadvertent contact.

In addition to the full-function keyboard with handrest, the device’s “VaporMg” cover has built-in stand that expands and retracts from the rear.