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Giants battle it out over tablets
Microsoft's new tablet - on sale this month. Picture: Microsoft

Competition is set to heat up between two of the world's biggest tech giants next week, as Microsoft pushes into the Apple-dominated tablet market.

But Apple is already hitting back, sending out invitations for a launch event timed just three days before Microsoft's new Surface tablet goes on sale.

Apple is widely rumoured to be launching an iPad "Mini", a smaller version of its blockbuster tablet, when it makes an announcement in the US next Tuesday.

Microsoft yesterday released pricing details for the Surface, which has a 27cm display, and opened pre-orders ahead of the tablet's release next Friday.

The wi-fi only Surface, which runs on a version of the new Windows 8 platform to be released on the same day, will be available for $559 for a 32GB version and $789 for a 64GB version bundled with a touch cover.

That compares to Apple's starting price of $539 for a wi-fi only 16GB model.

The major selling point for the Surface is a software package including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote - which is expected to make it popular with business customers who want to integrate tablets into their Microsoft-based systems. It comes with cloud storage platform SkyDrive, which offers 7GB of free online storage, and an Xbox-based entertainment suite for music, games and movies.

Another key feature for the Surface is the colourful touch-based cover which converts into a keyboard. However, the accessory adds $120 to the price tag in a bundle.

A "pro" version of the Surface will be released early next year.

PC Guru chief Jason Jordan said he was disappointed the price was not competitive with other tablets on the market and he was concerned the Windows 8 platform would not be as intuitive for users as the iPad.

Apple has sent out invitations to an event next Tuesday which reads: "We've got a little more to show you," which has fuelled widespread speculation it is set to release a 20cm tablet to supplement the full sized iPad range.

The latest product from Apple is expected to further bolster its 61 per cent share in the multibillion-dollar tablet market by competing with smaller products such as the Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7.