If you wondered how Microsoft was going to follow the nuclear bomb that was its Kin phones, there’s a simple answer: it isn’t.
The company confirmed this week that it has no plans to work on further smartphones. The Wall Street Journal reports that Tivanka Ellawala, the financial boss of Microsoft’s mobile division (and presumably the person who knows best just how little revenue the Kin generated), told an investor conference that: “We are in the software business and that is where out business will be focused.”
While at first glance it seems obvious that spending a fortune producing a pair of phones that appear to have sold less than 10,000 units (or 500 if you believe one frankly unbelievable claim) would inspire a company to give up the ghost, there are a couple of reasons why it’s still a minor surprise.
One is that Microsoft clearly wants to get Windows Phone 7 devices as standardized as possible (within the confines of dealing with multiple manufacturers), largely to avoid the system getting the blame when it runs badly, even where the phone itself is more to blame. It must have been tempting to build a handset specifically designed to run the new operating system absolutely perfectly and to show off all the features.
Another is that, as much as the Kin project earned a barrage of criticism, few people argued that the phone itself was a problem. Most reviews suggested it was a perfectly decent phone that held up to comparisons of other devices in the same purchase price range.
The real problem of the Kin handsets was down to marketing and dealing with networks. Microsoft simply wasn’t able to come up with a coherent message as to why somebody would want a Kin, and it didn’t have an easy answer as to why a Microsoft phone wasn’t running Windows. And perhaps more significantly, its classification as a smartphone with smartphone service fees was a disaster given the target audience.
By all rights Microsoft should be able to produce a successful smartphone: it’s got its own operating system, it’s got a reasonably successful hardware division (albeit one which concentrates on computer peripherals), and it’s hardly lacking in media attention or funds for paid marketing.
All of which makes it that much sadder that if you look at recent events, you have to conclude that getting out of the phone-making game is probably the best thing right now for Microsoft.