Competition between Apple and Microsoft is intensifying as the two companies ready the release of flagship tablets ahead of the busy Christmas period.

Apple has confirmed pre-sales of its iPad Pro will open on 12 November in Australia, with the tablet scheduled to be in stores “starting later this week”.

The timing is perilous for Microsoft, which has earmarked the date to open the first Microsoft Store in Australia and launch its 2016 range of Surface devices.

Microsoft is using the release of its Surface range to boost support for its retail store. The store, situated in Sydney’s Pitt Street mall, is the first to be opened outside of North America.

The Microsoft Store will be the only shopfront in Australia selling the Surface Book, a 13-inch convertible notebook, and it will sell the Surface Pro 4, a 12.3-inch tablet PC running Windows 10.

The two devices will compete with Apple’s iPad Pro, a 12.9-inch display and compatibility with a stylus.

Sales of tablet convertibles are poised to triple by 2017, from 500,000 to 1.5 million, reveal findings from research firm Telsyte.

The Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro are expected to drive sales of 1.8 million tablets in the second half of the year.

Microsoft has grown to become the third largest vendor in the Australian tablet market, after Apple and Samsung, said Foad Fadaghi, the managing director of Telsyte.

“Windows-based tablets and 2-in-1s will benefit from an upgrade cycle that started with the arrival of Windows 10 and is expected to continue into 2017,” Fadaghi says.

Apple holds the lion’s share of the market with 48 per cent penetration. Microsoft is gaining ground as Windows-based tablets and 2-in-1 devices are expected to exceed Android tablet sales.

Microsoft, a late entrant into the tablet space, has gained 4 per cent of the tablet market in the first half of 2015, growing its stake by four per cent to 14 per cent. Growth was at the expense of Android’s market share, which dropped to 38 per cent.

Pricing for the Surface Pro 4 starts at $1,349 in Australia. Apple has yet to confirm local pricing for its iPad Pro, which has a US price of $799.

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