LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Software giant Microsoft unveiled its first tablet computer, the Surface in a major hardware launch clearly designed to take on long-term rival Apple’s market-ruling iPad.

Chief executive Steve Ballmer described the iPad challenger - complete with a built-in stand and ultra thin covers-cum-keyboards in a range of colors - as a tablet that “works and plays.”

“The Surface is a PC, the Surface is a tablet, and the Surface is something new that we think people will absolutely love,”