For Microsoft-made phones, Kin = Fin

September 17, 2010

For Microsoft-made phones, Kin = FinIf 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.

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5 Responses to “For Microsoft-made phones, Kin = Fin”

  1. Kelly S:

    But you see, Windows Phone 7 is going the same way as the Kin, and will fail for the same reasons.

    When Kin was first released, Microsoft promoted it as being a smartphone. It cost like most other smartphones. But the problem was that Kin was feature short compared with other smartphones in the same price range.

    Now look at Windows Phone 7. Microsoft is promoting it as the iPhone killer (note last week’s mock funeral). But people are soon going to realize that Windows Phone 7 is feature short compared with iPhone and Android phones in the same price range.

    The OEMs making Windows Phone 7 handsets will set their prices on what it cost to build their hardware. They cannot offer a discount because the operating system software is missing features such as Copy&Paste, ability to multitask the apps you install, or wireless tethering.

    There is no reason that any potential customer will give Windows Phone 7 grace for having missing features.

    It is a sad fact that every single portable consumer device that Microsoft has ever had anything to do with has failed. Be it PlaysForSure music players, Zune music players, Windows Mobile, Sidekick, Kin, and now Windows Phone 7.

  2. Leigh:

    @Kelly S.
    The Kin failed for one reason — price.
    If you took one look at the facebook site, there were plenty of people who wanted one, but could not get around, or could not get their parents around the fact that the price for the network connectivity was set to the same as any other smartphone.

    Change the game, and Verizon getting their heads out for second, and Kin could have been a hit.

    Even after the price drop for the phone — surpise! Verizon couldn’t get people to pay almost $100 for voice and data for a phone that was meant for teenagers.

    The sad story told was that “it has cloud backing and that’s why it is worth the same”, but that didn’t sell. They should have dropped the price to $15 a month for data — and then we would have seen the true potential.

    Windows Phone 7 is nothing like the Kin problem — it has all the features that most people care about, and those it doesn’t have, it will add very quickly. This will not be the iPhone timetable of havong no cut-and-paste and multitasking into the 3rd year of existence, but that said, Microsoft will not add multitasking features without some very deep thought — the thought that most Android phone owners will admit isn’t in that O/S, with its sluggish response for some apps, and its task manager (which by the way Steve Jobs says “If you have to have one, you’re already doing something wrong”), just like (dare I say it?) Windows Mobile.

    Though multitasking is being perported to be must have, the iOS and the Android operating systems do somewhat suffer from it, since now one app can “squeeze out” another from the CPU or the memory, resulting in poor response, unexpected results, and even crashes. Even now, iOS doesn’t have full multitasking, because Apple knows better.

    And PLEASE don’t get me started on Android “security” (more aptly named “lack of security”).

    Right now, for Microsoft, the right thing is to avoid the complexities of full multi-tasking. More likely there will be fixed tasks that one can do which can operate in the background. One would be stream music (already possible with the core Zune service) and another being receiving a timer interrupt every so often.

    As far as cut-and-paste, I can do most things I need without cut-and-paste, and I can wait for the others. The phone intelligently understands what is a phone number, and automatically ties it to the ability to make a call, what is an email address, and automatically ties it to sending an email, and what is an address and automatically ties that to finding the address on a map. For those tasks, that means a single click can “take you there”, where on other phones, multiple clicks are needed.

    So what will bring developers to Windows Phone 7? Openness, ease of development, and security.

    What will bring users? Flashy apps (especially great games), ability to just do what one wants to do.

    What will bring carriers? the number of developers and users who want the phone.

    With luck, some other great people will also write about what they like about Windows Phone 7. Let’s see who else is out there…

  3. gunstar:

    MicroShaft will fail with its Tablet & Kinect, too. Make no exceptions.

  4. Hugh:

    “It must have been tempting to build a handset specifically designed to run the new operating system absolutely perfectly […]”

    Microsoft is demonstrably incapable of writing an operating system that will run well (let alone “perfectly”) under *any* circumstances; so it’s just as well that they didn’t yield to temptation in this instance. Even the geniuses of Redmond understand that there’s only so much cash you can flush down the toilet before the pipes back up…

  5. Rimmer:

    Hugh: “Microsoft is demonstrably incapable of writing an operating system that will run well ” really? are you still trying that old hat? Aside from your accusation being completely untrue and the fact that is also completely impossible to develop the “perfect” OS. However there is no OS on the market that offers the same combination of user friendliness and compatibility with such a wide range of hardware and software that windows 7 has. OSX has a slightly better user interface but is severely restricted in software and hardware it supports whilst all the Linux based are certainly better than OSX in that respect but are still too convoluted to use for everyone. All three of the OS platforms are just as stable providing the drivers are ok and given the same tech setup all perform pretty much equally.

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