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Microsoft's Kin smartphone: No, it kin't

Less than two months after they showed up in stores amid a burst of hype over their social-media capabilities, Microsoft's Kin smartphones have roamed into a dead zone. The company is scrapping the entire project, although Verizon Wireless will keep selling the Kin One and Kin Two models.

Accounts of the Kin's demise pointed to the same flaws that had gotten it panned in reviews -- a lack of add-on programs and service costs no cheaper than those of far more capable smartphones.


(Neither Microsoft nor Verizon's PR departments sent me a Kin to try out until after its debut, after which I kept finding more relevant things to review. In retrospect, I suppose they did me a favor.)

An Engadget post provides more details on the Kin's passing. Joshua Topolsky writes that the Kin, once seen as a Web-savvy descendant of T-Mobile's Sidekick phones, was delayed 18 months after Microsoft management decided to rewrite its software on its Windows CE code base.

Even without knowing that history, I thought the Kin made little sense for Microsoft. Years after it had become obvious that the iPhone and Google's Android operating system were herding Windows Mobile to extinction -- mere months after it had publicly committed to a different platform, its upcoming Windows Phone 7 -- why would Microsoft split its efforts on two incompatible systems?

Were the Kin developers just at the wrong end of the Redmond, Wash., campus to get the memo in time? I haven't seen such a dysfunctional development strategy since the worst days of Palm.

Oh, but it's worse than that. This debacle dates to 2008, when Microsoft spent a reported $500 million buying Sidekick developers Danger Inc. That expenditure not only yielded the ill-fated Kin, it also put Microsoft in a position to botch the Sidekick's server infrastructure so thoroughly that it nearly wiped out all the stored data of Sidekick users last year.

One thing Microsoft didn't pick up in the doomed Danger acquisition, however, was company co-founder Andy Rubin, who by then was busy developing Android for Google.

To find a purchase that disastrous, you have to look past Palm to Yahoo and AOL at their most foolish. Danger now looks like Microsoft's GeoCities or Bebo.

Killing Kin so quickly suggests that Microsoft's management finally realizes the mess it's in. (Kin developers who haven't already fled elsewhere will now work on Windows Phone 7.) But in the process, Microsoft has put a few dents in its own credibility. The next time it cues up its marketing machinery to boast that it's reinvented some category of gadget, people can and should remember how quickly this one cratered.

If anyone would like to say a few words about the deceased, you may now step forward in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 1, 2010; 11:02 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mobile , Windows  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Nielsen study shows smartphone users' appetite for data
Next: Don't read too much into Steve Jobs' e-mails (updated)

Comments Kendra. Feelin' like a bit of a chump right now.

Posted by: enogabal | July 1, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Microsoft better get its act together.

They are well on their way to become a third-rate software supplier.

Posted by: vigor | July 1, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

...another iPhone killer bites the dust... MS has not had good luck against APPL, first the Zune now the Kin... maybe it's the name.

Posted by: kkrimmer | July 1, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Microsoft never seemed to put any marketing behind this. I never saw any ads for it. I only heard about it when my friend (who works in the Microsoft mobile dept) started posting on Facebook with it.

Posted by: slwapo | July 1, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I disagree with vigor, I don't think Microsoft will be able to ascend to this level.

Posted by: NattieBumpo | July 1, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Wow! Huge amounts of advertising dollars were spent on this thing by Verizon--who hasn't seen the TV spots of the poor schlub trying to decide whether to keep new photos of his old girlfriend, or not. Verizon may keep selling it, but the whole spin about the Kin being the phone "for your social network" certainly didn't work out.

Posted by: jhpurdy | July 1, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Wow...simply wow! I never heard of the Kin (One or Two) until I set foot into a VZW store last week for help with my Eris. None of the sales guys paid any attention which I played around with the display unit, but hovered anxiously when I move to the LG Ally. The devices are 'cute', but I am not sure how you stand out in a market increasing dominated by phones running Android OS or iPhone when people seem to be separating into either the 'smartphone' or basic phone camps.

If I were still a MS shareholder I might start to question these investments.

Posted by: TheOneWhoHurtsMost | July 1, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I once thought Lucent would never go away but they bit the dust. Microsoft is slowly going the way of Lucent. I should sell my stock. They do this time and time again--introduce a product only to kill it soon after. How can anyone depend on them? The future looks to be with Google and Apple.

Posted by: nuzuw | July 1, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Wow! I'm so tired of the ads where the young lady tells all her friends about ?uestlove's show at the park, I'm glad they'll be gone.

Posted by: tojo45 | July 1, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I think I know why the Courier Project was canceled. Remember the rumor that they were going to use Windows 7 core elements as Courier's kernel? This was an early bad omen as what The Courier concept required was a complete, bottom up redesign of the OS all the way up to the innovative user interface -- as those awesome simulated videos suggested. But, as with the Kin, Microsoft's mindset is firmly entrenched with their Windows obsession to the point of self-destruction. They are making the same mistake with Windows 7 Mobile.

That is the fundamental error in their strategy.

Posted by: AlBme | July 1, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Another interesting column. But next time, can you provide a hyperlink or two?

Posted by: saltydog83 | July 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Not sending a review device is like (akin to? sorry...) Hollywood studios refusing to preview an embarrassingly bad movie for critics. Sounds like they knew. Maybe I could buy a Pixi instead. No, wait, what man would own something called a Pixi?

Posted by: beetsnotbeats | July 1, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"Were the Kin developers just at the wrong end of the Redmond, Wash., campus to get the memo in time? I haven't seen such a dysfunctional development strategy since the worst days of Palm"

How many companies have you worked for? Presumably the Kin was developed by the developers that came along with the Danger aquisition. That group is almost certainly a totally different group than the ones working on Windows Phone 7. Both are competing for resources and for a significant place in Microsoft's plans. Most likely someone sold the Kin as a product ready for release that could succeed in a niche market and get Microsoft a little mindshare while a different group was trying to get Windows Phone 7 out the door. Had Kin been a better product, it would not have been an unreasonable strategy. Presumaby, the Danger aquistion was the primary failure since they don't seem to have a product that is ready for the marketplace. By the standards of the company that I used to work for this kind of situation is just business as usual and it is one of the world's more successful companies.

Posted by: dnjake | July 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Aside from Kin's technical shortcomings (e.g. lack of add-on programs), the marketing of Kin was equally disastrous. The name "Kin" was probably a greater turn-off than the title "Cinderella Man" (my main reason for not watching the movie). Equally bad was the attempt to hype its social networking features, as though the target market is juvenile.

Posted by: bentleypublic | July 1, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I thought the Sidekick had a reputation as a popular phone for tweens or teens. By buying Danger, I thought MS was going to take advantage of that reputation. Why didn't they just keep it like it was?

Typical MS stupidity. Like someone said on another thread, under Ballmer all MS will ever be is a company kept afloat by their Windows/Office monopoly.

Posted by: john65001 | July 1, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Since when has Microsoft ever intentionally tried to "succeed in a niche market"? All their previous attempts (Encarta, Money, Bob, Digital Image Suite, etc.) have been equally hit-and-run. If they don't sell in the hundreds of millions, they don't stay.

BTW, I could not help but be incredulous at the video ad on this page for the F-35 Lightning fighter plane. What Post reader is in a position to BUY one of these things?

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | July 1, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

The most amazing thing to me is despite debacle after debacle... stupid public comment after stupid public comment... the board of directors haven't fired Ballmer...

Posted by: lauwersp | July 1, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Members of Congress (or their staffs) read the Post. So do the paper pushers in the Pentagon who will do the acquisition.

Even stranger are the ads you can find in subway stations for obscenely expensive military toys.

Posted by: SoloOwl | July 4, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

It is clear that Microsoft is just too big and too fat. I'm guessing there are 10 or 20 layers of management between Ballmer and the Kin designers and coders.

Ballmer probably never had a clear concept of the project. The staff brought in from Danger, Inc., obviously had no chance at navigating the Microsoft bureaucracy.

I thought Encarta was fabulous (also the dictionary that Microsoft put out). But it had no chance at bringing a billion dollars a month like Office or Windows.

Microsoft is living in the past, but living very high on the hog. They will be around until Windows, Office, and Xbox are all obsolete and dead.

Posted by: SoloOwl | July 4, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

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