RIP Microsoft Kin, you won't be missed

It took six weeks for Microsoft to kill its Kin smartphone, but that won't save the company's mobile ambitions

It's been a week since Microsoft took its two fledgling Kin smartphones for a ride and left them sleepin' wid da fishes. The fallout is still coming.

(OK, "smartphones" is too strong. Average-intelligence-with excellent-citizenship-grades phones is more like it. Read JR Raphael's mock Kin obituary for the ugly details.)

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely traces Redmond's issues to the top in "Microsoft's real problem is Ballmer." | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Depending on whether you're a glass half-full or glass half-empty type, you can see the Kin killings as a positive sign (Microsoft is finally getting serious about the mobile market) or further examples of Redmond's ineptitude (no. 347 in a series).

Me, I'm more of a "this glass is cracked and it isn't what I ordered anyway -- where's the damned vodka?" type, so I see the Kin debacle as yet more evidence Microsoft is a deeply schizophrenic company that should have been institutionalized a decade ago. Yet it continues to stagger on, supported by the enormous profits from enterprises locked in a Windows and Office stranglehold.

What exactly was wrong with the Kin? Peter Bright at Ars Technica writes:

Kin, like the Sidekick before it, was a device aimed at teenagers and young adults. It should have been cheap to buy and cheap to operate. But it wasn't. The pricing was, frankly, nuts: $150 for the Kin One or $200 for the Kin Two (albeit with a $100 mail-in rebate available for both) along with call plans that started at $60/month. From day one, it didn't stand a chance. Though the hardware prices were slashed, the plans remained prohibitively expensive.

Over at Mini-Microsoft, a kind of blowing-off-steam blog for anonymous Redmond refugees, they're saying the Kin may replace Microsoft Bob as the lamest Microsoft product ever released. I'm not sure I agree with that, but it certainly belongs in the same conversation. (Don't worry, Bob, you'll always have a special place in our hearts.)

Mini-Microsoft offers a sobering view into what the Microsofties really think about their company and its prospects in the mobile arena, where its market share has dropped like a bowling ball in a wet shopping bag. In 2008, three out of 10 smartphones ran a Microsoft operating system. These days, it's about one in 10, and as more groovy Android phones come out, that number will only shrink.

So now Microsoft is putting all its chips on Windows Phone 7, due to arrive some time this fall -- though InfoWorld's Galen Gruman reports it's also laying aside a few Ben Franklins for Windows Embedded Handheld OS, to support those poor enterprises saddled with Windows Mobile 6.5.

Here's what one anonymous Softie had to say about that at Mini-MSFT:

Windows Phone 7 has two years of development under [senior VP Andy Lees'] watch. Based on his past performance, 99 percent chance this is also going to be a total catastrophe. It further doesn't help that much of the Windows Phone 7 leadership team was kicked out of Windows when they screwed up Vista.

Ah, so now Microsoft is betting its future on the braniacs who came up with Vista. Do you still own any Microsoft stock? Now might be a good time to sell. Go ahead -- I'll wait.

In the past, Microsoft has always been able to rely on the corporate market to bail it out. IT departments don't want to support multiple operating systems across different platforms, so they imposed Windows Mobile on their BlackBerry-packin' road warriors. Business types generally used Windows phones because they had to, not because they wanted to.

But with the iPhone and Android, most of them don't have to do that any more. Once again Microsoft will have to compete on the merits of its products, while attempting to overcome the huge advantages of the RIM operating system (market share), Apple iPhone (mind share), and Android (sheer quantity of devices), as well as the enormous disadvantage of being, well, Microsoft.

I think Microsoft will remain dull and profitable for decades to come. But unless its mobile division separates from the mother ship and becomes an independent entity, the company will be increasingly irrelevant. Soon it won't even be fun to mock the company any more.

What other products do you think Microsoft should kill? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

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