Microsoft unveiled its own family of tablets Monday evening to rival Apple's iPad at an extremely hush-hush event in Los Angeles shrouded in mystery and speculation.

Microsoft is taking a huge leap with a mobile-friendly tablet, built on its new Window 8 operating system, which rolls out this fall, USA Today reports. The Microsoft Surface Pro and RT tablets will be built in-house. The company is stepping into the tablet market at a critical juncture when growth in PC sales is slowing and consumer interest in iPads is soaring. Even some tablets built on Google's rival Android mobile operating system, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire, are selling strongly.

We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience — hardware and software — are considered and working together, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the invitation-only event. Today we want to add another bit of excitement to the Windows 8 story.

The Surface is about the same weight and thickness as an iPad, with a 10.6-inch screen, The New York Times reports. The tablet has a built-in kickstand that will allow users to prop it up for watching movies, and a detachable cover that will serve double duty as a keyboard.

The Surface tablet will run a variation of Windows 8, a forthcoming version of Microsoft's flagship operating system. Ballmer said the product was part of a long-running effort by Microsoft to create hardware, like computer mice, that show off innovations in its software.

We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations, Ballmer said.

Microsoft did not immediately release pricing and availability information.

Even though Bill Gates predicted a decade ago that tablets would be the most popular form of PCs sold in America within five years, Microsoft is very much the challenger as it steps into the fray for multi-touch slate-style computers. Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg USA Today that in a market so dominated by the iPad, Microsoft better tell you not only why (its tablet is) different but why different is better in terms of value and in terms of price.

Adds IDC analyst Al Hilwa: It raises the bar on how Microsoft executes on this because now Microsoft's name is on it. They've got to get it right - they've got to really hit it out of the ballpark.

Microsoft's decision to create its own tablet is a huge bet that it needs to shift its way of doing business to meet a threat to its dominance in computing.

While it has made some 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, 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.

Reported specs: 

Surface Tablet for Windows RT

  • 10.6in ClearType HD screen
  • 9.3mm thin
  • USB 2.0
  • VaporMg chassis
  • 675g
  • Magnetic 3mm Touch Cover with integrated keyboard
  • Price and availability: Unknown

Surface Tablet for Windows Pro

  • 10.6in ClearType Full HD screen
  • 13.5mm thin
  • 903g
  • VaporMg Chassis
  • USB 3.0, microSDXC, Mini DisplayPort
  • Magnetic 3mm Touch Cover with integrated keyboard 
  • Price and availability: Unknown