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Microsoft debuts new tablet family called 'Surface'

Sounding a little like Apple, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the wraps off a new tablet family at a media event in Los Angeles. “We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when hardware and software are considered together,” Ballmer said before unveiling “Surface,” a family of tablets with an integrated kickstand and a cover that doubles as a tactile keyboard. The thinnest tablet runs Windows RT, the other runs Windows 8. Prices were not revealed.

As much as the event mirrored Apple, the product itself (specs) clearly aims to merge the ease of a tablet with the power of a PC, targeting the work-centric crowd.

“We took the time to get Surface and Windows 8 right,” Ballmer said. “To do something that was really different and really special. We’re proud of the Surface like we’re proud of Windows 8. Because of Windows 8, the Surface is a PC, it is a tablet.”

The new tablets will run Windows 8 apps, such as Netflix, which was demonstrated at the event. Surface for Windows RT will release with the “general availability of Windows 8,” and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later. Both will be sold in physical Microsoft stores and “available through select online Microsoft Stores.”

After years of false starts, Microsoft is going deep on tablets and the second screen, and nothing less than the future of the company could hinge on it. Earlier this month at E3, Microsoft announced a new second-screen experience called SmartGlass — an app that tied with Xbox to enable developers to create synchronized TV companion experiences spanning video and gaming. And the app-like Windows 8 has been greeted with positive reviews.

While Microsoft is terribly behind in the tablet market, Windows 8 and Xbox (40 million Xbox live users) will give the new hardware a much-needed boost to get into the game. Overall, it will mean more households with tablets, more TV multitasking and another shot in the arm for the skyrocketing second-screen space. This will be fun to watch.

What do you think of Surface? Will it outpace the Kindle Fire? Samsung Tab?

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