T-Mobile to sink Sidekick on May 31
T-Mobile surprised almost nobody by quietly moving to sideline the Sidekick, the formerly innovative line of phones it launched back in 2002 -- and which can rightly be regarded as Android's evolutionary ancestor.
The Sidekick's life will end May 31, when T-Mobile plans to shut down the over-the-air service that synchronizes users' contacts, calendars and other data.
The Sidekick's life began when it debuted as Danger Inc.'s "Hiptop", but T-Mobile had the good sense to rebrand it the Sidekick. The first Sidekick and subsequent models incorporated a slide-out keyboard, a basic Web browser and multimedia software, and a set of physical controls around the screen that operated in all of the phone's applications. Each Sidekick synchronized its data not to your computer but to Danger's servers, allowing a constant-over-the-air sync.
If that sounds a little bit like a primitive Android phone, it should. Danger was founded by Andy Rubin. After he was dropped as
Android's Danger's chief executive in 2004, he started up a new smartphone-software firm called Android that Google promptly snapped up.
Meanwhile, the Sidekick begat the Sidekick 2, which begat the Sidekick 3, and so on. Each update brought incremental improvements to its software and hardware. For instance, the Sidekick 2 added a camera. But there were no major changes to the basic architecture. In particular, it continued to rely almost exclusively on "cloud" synchronization, without any easy offline backup option.
Microsoft bought Danger in 2008 for a reported $500 million. In 2009, a massive malfunction at Microsoft's servers left all those Sidekick users without any way of preserving their data if they so much as shut off the phone. After a few anxious days, Microsoft announced that it could rescue the threatened data, but the commercial viability of the Sidekick had already been lost.
The Sidekick software -- after an apparently disastrous rewrite that moved it to Microsoft's Windows CE code base -- last appeared in Microsoft's ill-fated Kin phones, which lasted only a few weeks in the market before getting yanked.
The Sidekick name, however, will live on; T-Mobile plans to ship a device with that moniker running Android.
Since then, the demise of the Sidekick platform has only been a matter of when, not if. Should you have one in your pocket or purse now--or, perhaps, collecting dust in a desk drawer or closet--I invite you to share your recollections in the comments.
11:17 a.m. Fixed an error in the paragraph about Rubin's role at Danger and added one about the future Android-powered Sidekick that I, um, forgot to write before.
| March 1, 2011; 10:45 AM ET
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