Microsoft kills the Kin

Just over two months after launching it, Microsoft won't continue development of the consumer phone

Just over two months after launching it, and days after reducing the price, Microsoft has decided to kill the Kin phone.

Microsoft began offering the phone in mid-April on Verizon's network. The two models of the Kin were aimed at young people, with prominent social-networking ties.

But reviewers were critical of the phones from the beginning, noting that they were often difficult to use and lacked key features.

Earlier this week, Verizon dropped the price of the low-end Kin from US$49 to $29 and the high-end version from $99 to $49. A price drop so close to launch is typically an indication that the phones aren't selling well.

Microsoft has apparently decided to pin its future mobile efforts on Windows Phone 7, the revamp to its ailing Windows Mobile operating system that is due out on phones later this year.

"We have made the decision to focus on the Windows Phone 7 launch and will not ship Kin in Europe this fall as planned," Microsoft said in a statement. "Additionally, we are integrating our Kin team with the Windows Phone 7 team, incorporating valuable ideas and technologies from Kin into future Windows Phone releases. We will continue to work with Verizon in the U.S. to sell current Kin phones."

Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, had heard just a few days ago that Microsoft was preparing a big software update to the Kin phones. However, he said he's more surprised that Microsoft launched the Kin phones in the first place than that it killed them now.

The phone had many poor reviews and probably weak sales, he said. Although it had one feature that was often praised, it lacked a number of features considered standard on smartphones today, including an app store.

A number of users who wrote reviews on the Verizon site complained that the phones didn't even come with a calendar.

However, many people, including Rosoff, praised Kin Studio. That's a feature that lets a Kin user log into their account on a computer and see a timeline of activity on the phone, including photos, videos and text messages. The feature backs up all content on the phone.

Folding the Kin team into the Windows Phone 7 team is something Microsoft should have done long ago, Rosoff said. "It's surprising that they didn't take a look at this Kin team and say, 'what they're doing is interesting but it needs to be put into the mainstream mobile platform,'" he said.

One reason that Microsoft continued down the Kin development path is that it may have had deals with Verizon or Sharp, the phone maker, that it couldn't get out of, he said

Cnet and Gizmodo first reported the news.

The decision to halt further development of the Kin is probably related to recent changes at the top of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices group. It recently announced that Robbie Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices division, would leave the company later this year, after 22 years at Microsoft. While Bach oversaw the successful Xbox business, the company's mobile efforts have been widely criticized. Windows Mobile has been steadily losing market share to more popular competitors like Apple's iPhone.

"I think that this is part of the legacy of Ballmer's review of the mobile business," Rosoff said. Rather than replace Bach, Microsoft has put Ballmer in charge of the division. In the past when Ballmer has taken over other segments of the company, he has similarly reviewed the business, often cutting projects, Rosoff said.

The Kin phones have their roots in software from Danger, the company that made the Sidekick phones and was acquired by Microsoft. Microsoft positioned the Kin phones as more consumer-centric devices, compared to Windows Phone 7, which will hit the market later this year.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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