Microsoft Kin Death Raises Windows Phone 7 Questions

The death of Microsoft’s Kin phones indicates a move away from ‘unnecessary’ consumer projects in favor of focusing on Windows Phone 7

Microsoft is discontinuing its Kin phones, which evidently failed to gain traction with its target demographic: teenagers and young adults obsessed with social networking. As the news spread across the web, analysts and pundits widely assumed the Kin’s death had been hastened by the recent shakeup in Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division.

“Microsoft has made the decision to focus on the Windows Phone 7 launch and will not ship Kin in Europe this fall as planned,” reads a June 30 statement from Microsoft. “Additionally, we are integrating our Kin team with the Windows Phone 7 team, incorporating valuable ideas and technologies from Kin into future Windows Phone releases. We will continue to work with Verizon in the US to sell current Kin phones.”

Social phones

Carried exclusively in the United States by Verizon, the Kin One and Kin Two, announced May 13, included hardware and applications tailored to deliver a constant stream of social-networking data to the user. In a likely harbinger of trouble, Verizon in recent days had slashed the price of the stubby Kin One from $49.99 (£32.92) to $29.99 (£19.73) with a two-year plan, and the more rectangular Kin Two from $99.99 (£65.78) to $49.99. While the devices allowed users to seamlessly upload their photos and data to the cloud, they also lacked games, Flash support, and the ability to download third-party applications.

Despite a massive advertising push, Kin sales may have proved anemic; one rumor drifting across the web, which has its origins in a June 18 posting on Business Insider, is that Microsoft sold only 500 phones since their release.

According to one analyst, Kin’s problems can be traced back to Danger Inc., creators of the Sidekick mobile platform, which Microsoft acquired in 2008. Long before the Kin’s unveiling, rumors abounded that Microsoft and Danger were collaborating on two branded smartphones, collectively dubbed “Project Pink.”

“The Kin was a mistake from day one,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, wrote in a July 1 email to eWEEK. “The extra time they took to convert the Kin from the Sidekick platform to Windows CE made it about a year and a half late to market, and the merger likely added another year and a half. That’s 1.5 to 3 years late depending on when you start the clock.” Given how quickly the phone market evolves, that sort of lag could have proved deadly to Kin’s fortunes.

Microsoft’s quickness in killing the Kin, Enderle added, suggests that change might be underway in Redmond. “Typical Microsoft behavior is to deny there is a problem for several years and then quietly kill the product,” he wrote. “This keeps them from trying as many things because it makes mistakes incredibly expensive. If they have learned, and so far this is just an exception, to find and correct problems more quickly, they may be able to take more chances.”