Microsoft dropped a stunner on the tech world this week by terminating Kin, its social media-centered phone for teenagers.
Just a mere six weeks after its long-gestating birth in May, Kins will no longer be sold in the U.S. and plans for a fall European release have been scrapped. Internally, the Kin team will be rolled into the Windows Phone 7 team, according to Microsoft.
The Kin came in two models, One and Two, and were the result of Microsoft's purchase in early 2008 of Danger, the company behind the technology for T-Mobile's Sidekick phones. The Kins were then in mysterious development for what felt like an eternity under the code name Pink.
Theories abound as to why Kin got the axe. It's likely a combination of vague marketing, Microsoft's cluelessness about today's youth market, the lack of an app store, and high prices for the phones and a way too expensive data plan from Verizon (US$30 per month). All of this inevitably led to poor sales.
Just two days before Kin's death, Verizon dropped Kin prices dramatically from $49.99 to $29.99 for Kin One and from $99.99 to $49.99 for Kin Two. A last ditch effort to pull in a few suckers? You betcha. These should have been the original Kin prices. 100 bucks with a $30 monthly data plan for a "social" phone for teens and tweens? Seems unreasonable. The Kins should have come with label reading "Affluent parents only." The original Kin Two pricing, in fact, was similar to the full-featured Droid Eris by HTC and was actually more expensive than the Palm Pre Plus and the HTC Touch Pro2.
Microsoft also left the Kin without a clear operating system identity. It was built on neither Windows Phone 7 nor Windows Mobile 6.x technology, but a hybrid of both.
Bottom line: Nobody was buying the Kin, and Microsoft ran out of patience - millions of dollars in development and advertising be damned.
Gonna state the obvious here: This is an epic blunder by Microsoft at a time when they really need to look like they know what they are doing with mobile. It's getting ugly out there for Windows Mobile. Apple and RIM are cranking on all cylinders and Google has flooded the market with Droid phones from various hardware partners. No one I know has a Windows Mobile phone, and I know my share of gadget geeks. It's simply not on American consumers' radar and it's another five long months until Windows Phone 7 is available.
It's also alarming that Microsoft spent so much money developing the Kins and got no results. For a major company to pour millions of research and advertising dollars into a major product and then pull it is a sign of poor planning, lack of focus and wasteful spending. The Danger acquisition alone cost Redmond $500 million.
Windows Phone 7's arrival would probably have overshadowed Kin even if it had lived, but the Kin's short, unhappy life was a debacle. It shines a light Microsoft's continued mismanagement of its mobile strategy and won't soon fade from peoples' minds as the never-ending wait for Windows Phone 7 drags on.