Microsoft's next of Kin: No cure for smartphone fatigue

The Kin One and Kin Two handsets look cool enough -- but do we really need more "social" smartphones?

As I type this, Microsoft is announcing two new slider cell phones, the Kin One and Kin Two -- successors to the beloved but aging-faster-than-Mickey-Rourke T-Mobile Sidekick.

These are apparently the culmination of the long-rumored, until-now-entirely-vaporous, Project Pink, code-named Turtle and Pure, sometimes also known as the Zune Phone. When your phones have more aliases than a CIA operative, that's probably not a good sign. But I digress.

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I can't tell you how excited I am. I can't tell you -- because I'm about to slide into a walking coma.

It's not really Microsoft's fault. It's an industrial malady, a contagion that has picked up strength and virality over the last three years. I call it Smartphone Fatigue. It's like Epstein-Barr, only more enervating: "Gee. Another whizzy new cell phone. You say it does multitouch and pinch zoom, and I can tweet in my sleep? God, please take me now."

Remember, last year the Palm Pre and the WebOS were all the rage. The Pre was finally going to end the iPhone's domination of media hype, if not actual smartphone sales. Now the rumors are raging that Palm is about to be sold off to the highest bidder, most likely one of its smartphone competitors. (See ya later Palm, it was nice while it lasted. You'll always have a place in my heart.)

Then, of course, there were the Droid, the Cliq, and the Nexus. Android phones were going to change our lives in ways we could not imagine (and, frankly, still can't). Then Microsoft made a bid for our gadget-lusting hearts by teasing us with tantalizing glimpses of the Windows Phone 7 Series, which might actually arrive before Windows 8 shows up -- maybe. Then Apple had an announcement or two -- the exact nature of it escapes me -- something to do with pads?

And now: Pink -- er, Turtle. I mean Kin.

So Kin One and Kin Two. First thought: Why not go the whole Dr. Seuss route and name them Thing One and Thing Two? I think Microsoft missed a big market opportunity there.

OK, back to the phones. They're ... phones. They have slide-out keyboards. The Kin One ("Turtle") is closer in size to a BlackBerry, while Kin Two ("Pure") has a full QWERTY keyboard, a la the LG Rumor and a gazillion others.

Also: They're all about socialism -- I mean, social networking. The Kin interface is supposed to weave all your social/online activity into one seamless experience. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because that's what the Cliq's Motorola Blur interface also does -- unless that was really the Droid.

Hence the Kin Website, filled with photos of twentysomethings acting like hormonally crazed simpletons. (Sorry, that's just my Smartphone Fatigue talking. Let me crack open another can of Red Bull and readjust.) In other words, this is not your father's satellite phone, and probably not yours either.

The intro text on the Kin Website: "The impulsive. The spontaneous. The wonderful."

My translation: "The annoying. The self-absorbed. The unemployed."

The bad news? No app store. No Flash support. The good: No sign of Windows whatsoever -- these phones are based on the Zune browser interface, so they have that going for them.

The Kins will be available from Verizon sometime this May. I bet you can't wait. I know I can't. Because my life just hasn't changed enough yet this year. If I don't get a new life-altering gadget every few weeks, I might shrivel up and die.

How about you -- tired of smartphones yet? Longing for your boring old landline? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

InfoWorld
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