No Kin Do: Microsoft Keeps Limping Into the Mobile Era
The life of Microsoft's Kin was hard and short -- delayed development, feuding executives and last-minute changes in OSes were just some of the problems that reportedly plagued the platform. But the phone shoppers out there don't care about behind-the-scenes bickering. They just want the coolest stuff out there, with touchscreens, real app stores and affordable prices, and Microsoft isn't cooperating.
07/02/10 5:00 AM PT
Even though I had no intention of ever buying a Kin (apparently like everybody else out there), I'm still pissed off at Microsoft for killing their latest attempt at the mobile phone market.
The Kin One and Two now share a dubious distinction: They got less time than Conan O'Brien to build and develop an audience. True, there wasn't a lot of groundbreaking development within the two phones' hardware or the operating system, but there were enough social media-friendly touches and one or two neat ideas (the Spot, cloud storage) to show that the folks in Redmond may have turned the corner regarding phones. The Kins promised that Windows Phone 7, when it releases close to the holidays, might have a few surprises up its sleeve.
Yes, I didn't like the fact that what Microsoft was calling "apps" on the Kin OS were really things like cameras, browsing, etc. Sorry, but apps mean apps, as in downloadable third-party content. It was a little insulting to the intelligences of the very market Microsoft was trying to cultivate -- teens and 20-somethings -- to use the \u201capp\u201d label in such an insincere manner. And the pricing plans offered by Verizon were indeed pricey for a phone that was supposed to be the lower-cost alternative to iPhones and Droids and BlackBerries, which is what all the kids are screaming for these days but which parents may be balking at until those same kids can find a job.
All Bickering Aside ...
Microsoft flooded the zone with commercials -- yes, at least one seemed to endorse stalking ex-girlfriends. But the Kin brand was everywhere. Subsequent reporting on various tech websites and blogs following the Kin's premature death point to the usual suspects: Delayed development (which may have forced Verizon into pumping up data plan prices), feuding executives, last-minute changes in operating systems, a company that remains in a state of flux following the departures of some key people.
But all of that is fodder for the business press and technosphere. The phone shoppers out there who are being swamped by iPhone 4s and HTC EVOs and whatever OS RIM has coming soon don't care about the corner-office machinations. They're just seeking the coolest-looking stuff out there, with touchscreens and real app stores and with prices that come close to what they can afford, and Microsoft isn't cooperating.
You kill the Kin without giving it at least a year, or attempting to negotiate cheaper pricing plans with Verizon, and you take the chance that the same consumers you reached out to here won't even turn their heads your way when Windows Phone 7 hardware hits stores this autumn. The Kins were a unique feature/smartphone mashup, to say the least, but you could have carved out an affordable phone segment that could help steer future WP7 development.
Yet here we are again, looking at a Microsoft misfire in a key technology segment. I'm tempted to paraphrase a line from a film brought to us by those paragons of moviemaking subtlety and restraint, Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. The movie: "The Rock." The mercenaries holding Alcatraz wanted to fire a rocket and kill civilians, but their leader inputs the wrong coordinates on purpose. The rest of the men find out and accuse their general. "So now they think we're gutless, the feds? They think we won't actually do it?" The general counters that the feds don't know the mercenaries missed on purpose.
The response: "Great. We're not gutless. We're incompetent."
Waiting to Be Impressed
Everything Apple does is the right move, even when it's not (see: iPhone 4, antenna; iPhone 4, pre-ordering snafu; iPhone 4, anything involving AT&T). They have the innovation mojo, the media winds powering their sails, the cultural zeitgeist at their disposal. Apple can launch a phone with ordering difficulties, reception problems, special YouTube instructions on how to hold the phone the right way, and people still sing Facetime's praises. In fact, Facetime can face down bogus reports of an iPhone recall and an anonymously sourced story that Verizon gets the iPhone 4 in January.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has bupkiss. I know for a fact that three years ago, about the time the first iPhone was getting ready to launch, that the rank-and-file in Redmond were worried about Apple stealing the innovation crown. That title has been officially gone for some time now, but it wasn't stolen; it was earned fair and square. If Microsoft wants to bring all phone products under one Windows Phone ring to rule them all and bind them, that's the company's prerogative. Just make damn sure you knock everybody's socks off in six months' time, lest you're giving the vaudeville hook to yet another line of phones.
TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel started his journalism career with his hometown newspaper in Texas in 1979. He moved to television in 1985, anchoring, producing and reporting in Austin, Dallas and San Francisco before joining CNBC as a technology correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Following a stint with CBS MarketWatch, which included filing tech stories for the CBS Early Show, San Miguel joined CNN Headline News in 2001 as an anchor/tech reporter. He also contributed digital content for CNN.com. After his 2007 departure from CNN, San Miguel founded Primo Media and now freelances in television/online reporting and media consultation. San Miguel is host/managing editor for Spark360, which produces news-style paid content for SMBs distributed via branded Web video portals and social media platforms.