The curious thing About Microsoft Kin

Microsoft bills the Kin as a mobile phone for the "social generation" -- but something about the device just doesn't add up.

Call me crazy, but something about Microsoft's Kin phone just doesn't add up.

The Kin, unveiled by Microsoft on Monday, is billed as a mobile phone for the "social generation." It's meant to appeal to the younger, always-connected crowd -- teens and 20-somethings who spend their days surfing social networks -- and yet the Kin's social network support is decidedly unrobust.

Let me explain.

Microsoft Kin: Always Connected, Some of the Time

Much has been made over what Microsoft's Kin phone is missing: There are no apps, there's no Flash, and there are no games. And all of that is a bit baffling. But there are other features even more core to the social networking experience that are even more conspicuously absent.

The most glaring thing missing from the always-connected phone is, quite simply, the ability to remain always-connected. In his introduction of the Kin, Microsoft Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach described the device as a "mobile experience just for this social generation -- a phone that makes it easy to share your life moment to moment."

His statement seemingly needed a footnote: "...if by 'moment to moment,' you mean 'on 15-minute intervals.'"

The Kin, you see, revolves around a home screen setup known as "The Loop." It streams all your latest status updates and messages and makes it easy for you to reply.

Here's the problem: The Kin, Microsoft confirmed to me, syncs those updates only once every 15 minutes. This is done in the name of battery life -- a spokesperson says Microsoft wanted the phone to be able to last for a full weekend on a single charge -- but for a device whose primary selling point is being "the phone you use to be the first to comment on a Facebook photo," a nonoptional and never-ending 15-minute delay cycle seems to have "oxymoron" written all over it.

That issue aside, the Kin is lacking a number of other basic features one would think might be crucial to any enthusiastic social networker. Microsoft's Kin has no instant messaging client, no appointment calendar, and no universal inbox. There's no photo or video editing, and while the Kin does offer seamless photo and video uploading to certain social services, Twitter is not among them. The lack of Flash also presents potential problems with Web video playback, and the lack of any app support makes it impossible to correct any of these omissions with third-party programs.

The Bigger Kin Question

Now, the Kin is clearly not designed for the diehard Microsoft fanboy; he'd be more apt to snatch up a full-featured Windows Phone 7 device. But even given the Kin's more carefully targeted demographic, I'm confused: Why would members of the "social generation" veer toward the Kin over a relatively inexpensive smartphone that can do so much more?

The Kin's "Loop" is more or less the same as Motorola's Blur interface, which brings a social networking backdrop to the home screens of Android handsets like the Cliq and Backflip. And there's always the iPhone, which -- while it doesn't have a widget-based home screen option -- has plenty of feature-rich social networking applications. With both the Backflip and the iPhone selling for $99, unless the Kin comes with a dirt-cheap data plan, it's going to have a tough time winning the price war by much.

Microsoft's mysterious "Project Pink" could have been so many fascinating things. But after the years of development, I have to question whether its result -- the Kin -- can seriously compete in today's overflowing mobile market.

Hey, maybe I'm just too surly to understand what the Kin's target audience truly wants. No matter how hard I try to summon my inner Justin Bieber, though, I can't for the life of me figure out what Microsoft was thinking.

JR Raphael frequently covers mobile technology for both PCWorld and eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway. He's on Facebook: facebook.com/The.JR.Raphael

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JR Raphael

PC World (US online)
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