If you haven’t heard the news, (and a lot of people heard the news and thought “what’s that?”) Microsoft killed the Kin, the smartphone designed to be a semi-smartphone for young people and teenagers looking for a device that had a focus on social networking and staying in touch with friends but didn’t need enterprise-level features.
Most people in the tech sector saw the announcement (and still see the commercials on TV) and shake our head sadly at what could have been a good product if it had been given the right attention, resources, appropriate marketing, and aggressive prices.
I’m completely agreed with the notion that the Microsoft Kin could have been an amazing product, and could have been the pioneer for a new generation of feature phones that could have stood alongside devices like the LG Envy and dominated them. Instead, Verizon took them and put them on the same stage as smartphones that were way more powerful, at the same price-point, and forced owners to have expensive smartphone-level data plans to support them.
The price was something I would have been able to get over if it weren’t for the fact that Verizon charged data fees on top of them when they don’t for phones that are more like the Kin. The Kin, at least in my perspective, was less of a mini-smartphone or smartphone-lite as it was a super feature phone that would help teens send messages to their friends, send them photos, take video, and then manage all of that content from a Web app powered by Microsoft.
The Kin could have been rolled in with Zune and Zune Marketplace and as a precursor to Windows Phone 7, and positioned as the first in an aggressive new generation of feature phones that would have forced LG and Samsung to up their ante and bring feature phones to the market that would really be fun and useful for young people who don’t necessarily want (or whose parents don’t want them to have) BlackBerry devices or Android phones or iPhones.
Instead, the Kin died a slow and painful death because it was horribly marketed to no specific target group, generically labeled as a “social phone” without any real look at what made it stand out or what the companion Web app was good for, it was priced too high on shelves at Verizon stores, and the requirement of a full data plan for it was the final nail in the coffin. They didn’t sell, and Microsoft pulled the plug.
Over at Engadget there’s a beautiful retelling of the true and inside story of the life and death of the Kin, which includes how things went wrong from the very beginning and the entire project turned into a “just get it finished and out the door” kind of project, even if it was flawed and even if people at Microsoft and Verizon both knew that the way it was positioned meant it wouldn’t go anywhere. It’s worth a read, if not for lines like this:
While it’s hard to argue that Kin is an awful product, the saddest part of the story is that many of the people responsible for it knew it was — they were largely victims of political circumstance, forced to release a phone that was practically raw in the middle.