This morning Microsoft announced its first KIN phones, devices targeted at young social networking enthusiasts. KIN phones will be manufactured by Sharp and available on the Verizon Wireless network in May, and on Vodafone's network in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK this autumn. These KIN devices — and the supporting software and services — are logical outcomes following Microsoft's February, 2008 acquisition of Danger, the inventor of the Sidekick. What's noteworthy about KIN?
- It's designed for the way young people communicate. KIN targets young online consumers, for whom voice is an afterthought. Their communication is primarily online and via text messaging, encompasses rich media like photos and video, and gravitates around social networking sites such as Facebook. The entire KIN user experience originates from this perspective and provides these young consumers with a communications portal in the palm of their hand — not a phone.
- It wholly embraces the cloud… With KIN, Microsoft has proven that their embrace of the cloud is sincere. Recognizing that even these tech-savvy young consumers still have difficulty liberating photos and video from their phone, the KIN experience simply pushes content into the cloud automatically, and makes that content available for sharing with a simple "Spot" to which the user drags the item they want to share.
- …And delivers beyond the phone. No surprise here, given Microsoft's strength on the PC and the traditional fixed Web, but many competitors coming from the mobile world have focused too heavily on the phone and failed to treat the PC as an integral component of their services. KIN ties services into a robust Web site and recognizes that KIN users simply want to access their content and network in the most convenient and best manner of the moment — which is often the PC.
So we think KIN will be — finally — a successful foray for Microsoft into the consumer mobile world. How successful will depend on information we don't yet have, in particular the cost of the devices and, most importantly, the price of the associated plans. In the US, where many of the target audience only pay for voice and messaging today, Verizon will need to craft a bundle of voice, messaging, and data that protects their current smartphone pricing while competing against similar unlimited plans from Boost and Metro PCS at $50 per month and below.
What is less clear is the role KIN devices will play in supporting the WIndows Phone brand. Microsoft acknowledged that they envision an upgrade path whereby KIN owners will, eventually, step up to a Windows Phone 7. But developers will now see three different instantiations of the Windows Phone platform: the current (nee Windows Mobile) platform, KIN, and the upcoming Windows Phone 7. While the latter two share some code elements, KIN is not even available to developers (Microsoft will be responsible for all the software, just as Danger was with Sidekick). With Apple offering developers a single platform of more than 85 million devices (including iPod Touch), and a gathering tsunami of Android devices hitting the market, we think Microsoft would be better off focusing their value proposition to developers, not making it more confusing.