Microsoft introduces tablet computer range to take on iPad

Microsoft signalled a significant change in strategy last night by announcing its own range of tablet computers to take on Apple's iPad.

The firm, which has traditionally eschewed the hardware business in favour of licensing software to the third-party manufacturers, said it will launch a range of tablets under the "Surface" brand.

The range includes a consumer device aimed directly at the iPad, and another, larger machine designed to compete with lightweight laptops. Both include a keyboard that doubles as a cover, and both will be powered by versions of the new Windows 8 operating system.

Apple's success has underscored the benefits of an integrated approach to hardware and software, and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said on Monday that the company "didn't want to leave anything uncovered" as it rolled out Windows 8.

The new software is the biggest overhaul of Windows in years, and features a new touch-friendly interface dubbed "Metro".

The lighter, thinner version of the Surface tablet, built on an Nvidia Corp chip designed by ARM Holdings, will be the first to market at the same time as the general release of Windows 8, and will feature Microsoft's popular Office suite of applications.

It is comparable to Apple's new iPad, heavier but slightly thinner. It has a 10.6 inch screen and comes in 32GB and 64GB memory sizes.