The Microsoft Kin, it seems, wasn't designed for real users.About a month ago a Verizon Wireless PR executive handed me a black can containing a Kin 2 phone. She said that she hoped it would prove useful for a product review. Once I'd charged it and started trying to use it I found my disappointment rising with every minute. The Kin, it seemed, wasn't designed for real users. It wasn't clear who, exactly, it was designed for.
And that, ultimately, is what helped kill the Kin. While it would happily display your Facebook and Twitter messages on the main screen in real time, e-mail wasn't well supported, and even making a phone call wasn't as obvious as it should be. When I tried to use the Kin with a test Exchange server, it simply wouldn't work, despite the fact that Microsoft advertised that their phone, using its own Microsoft client software would work with Microsoft Exchange.
Add to this the fact that the Kin had no app store, no entertainment software besides social networking, and didn't support the applications that other Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 devices support, and it's no surprise that it had a limited market. Then there was the monthly cost of about 70 bucks for the Kin 2, and it's enough to make you wonder why the Kin was allowed to see the light of day.
What's more surprising is that the Kin was a year and a half late. Verizon Wireless put up with delays caused by Microsoft changing the base operating system mid-stream, but the company clearly wasn't happy. Now, Verizon Wireless is stuck with thousands of Kin devices that it will have to sell at deep discounts while contending with the news that this is already an orphaned device.
Fortunately for most users, the Kin was never a serious phone for anyone over the age of 16. But the quick demise of the device opens questions about Microsoft's ability to field a competitor to Apple's iPhone. Microsoft has had limited success with its Windows Mobile 6 and 6.5 devices. Its Windows CE devices were even more forgettable (the Kin was ultimately based on CE, which didn't help). So how is Windows Mobile 7 going to be better?
Of course, the new mobile operating system will surely be better. Microsoft is astute enough to see what's happening with other devices, and is good enough at marketing to know what's going to sell. At least most of the time. But Microsoft is swimming upstream. Despite its problems, the iPhone is selling in the millions. Android devices are growing fast, and there's a constant stream of new devices hitting the street daily. And of course, RIM has a virtual hold on the enterprise. Where will Microsoft fit in?
Perhaps more important, how will Microsoft gain the confidence of the IT managers that it needs to be allowed into the enterprise? Adopting a new mobile platform takes a significant allocation of resources on the part of a company's IT department. As devices become more and more integrated, the allocation becomes larger. Given Microsoft's checkered record in the mobile device business, will the company even be given an opportunity?
For Microsoft to have even a chance, the new Microsoft-based phones will have to be more than just great phones. They'll have to be better than everything else out there. The new devices will have to come to market with a great selection of seriously useful, reasonably priced applications, and the devices will have to meet new standards to usability, design and functionality. In Microsoft's case, there will be no place for antennas that drop calls or for updates that turn your device into a brick. In other words, Microsoft will have to hit a home run on the first pitch or be sent to the showers and a long ride to oblivion.
Hopefully they'll make it. The world can always use another seriously great mobile device. But right now the question is whether the company will be able to pull it off.