A decade back, when news of CEO Steve Ballmer’s departure was making rounds in the press and the launch of Windows Phone 7 was months away, Microsoft began selling its new Kin-branded phones. But less than six weeks after the Kin One and Kin Two hit retail shelves in the US, Microsoft said it would stop selling the social handsets, which were aimed at teens and social media addicts.
Why did Kin phones fail? Why couldn’t Microsoft connect with the younger generation with the Kin? Is the popularity of the iPhone to be blamed?
Here’s the story of Microsoft’s Kin, the worst-selling phone ever built.
#The Kin project, code-named “Pink,” was a brainchild of J Allard, the Microsoft executive who oversaw the development of Xbox Live and the much-hyped dual-screen Courier project which never saw the light of day. The development of “Project Pink” was started in 2008, when Microsoft purchased Silicon Valley-based startup Danger for $500 million, the company known for making the popular T-Mobile Sidekick. Soon after J Allard and team started working on “Project Pink” which later became the Kin phones.
#From the beginning, Allard was clear that the Kin would run on a new mobile operating system and not Microsoft’s Windows Phone. He wanted to take bits and pieces from Zune, Microsoft’s answer to iPod, and create a new operating system to power the Kin. But Allard’s vision was somewhere lost in internal office politics.
#Allard always wanted to keep the “Project Pink” separate from Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Group, but that didn’t happen. Andy Ree, who was senior vice-president within Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Group, eventually gained control over the Danger team and Project Pink. For Ree, the reboot of Windows Phone was a major concern, and Project Pink didn’t get much attention.
#Under Ree’s direction, Project Pink went through a number of changes. And as Ree wanted, Pink was forced to run an untested mobile OS, albeit a distinct cousin of a Windows Phone. That led to the delay in the development of the Kin phones, and the launch was pushed back by months.
#The two Kin models, Kin One and Kin Two, made their debut in early April 2010, manufactured by Sharp and available exclusively through Verizon Wireless. While the Kin phones were destined for failure, Microsoft’s exclusive deals with Verizon only made matters worse. It was reported that the 18-month delay in the launch of Kin irked Verizon and reduced Microsoft’s chance to negotiate with the top telecom operator to subsidize the devices. At launch, the Kin One cost $50, and the Kin Two cost $100 with a two-year Verizon contract.
#Microsoft targeted the Kin One and Kin Two at youngsters and social media-obsessed teens who want a cheaper way to connect to the internet and social networking services like Facebook and Twitter. The Kin One had a 2.6-inch square-shaped touch screen and a slide-out keyboard, whereas the Kin Two featured a 3.4-inch touch screen and a keyboard that slides out from its side. They had modest specifications for phones launched at that time.
#But upon the launch, the Kin phones created confusion in the minds of consumers. While both phones looked like “social phones”, they weren’t smartphones. Blame it on Kin OS. The operating system, which ran both phones, was simple and easy to use. The phones featured a brand new home screen called KIN Loop, which was a collection of social networking feeds combined with RSS feeds. There was also access to Microsoft’s Zune music service. But the handsets were marred by lack of apps, navigation and games. That means the phones were mere feature phones and not actual smartphones like the iPhone and Android devices.
#The mixed-to-negative reviews had already done enough damage. But the phones were also criticised for their illogical pricing. Verizon asked $50 for the Kin One and $100 for the Kin Two – both prices requiring a two-year contract. But the Kin phones also required a $70 monthly internet plan. That added cost made the Kin phones out of reach for teenagers, making the “social handsets” less relevant. Later, Verizon slashed Kin prices to just $30 for the Kin One and $50 for the Kin Two.
#Less than 48 days after their launch, Microsoft killed the Kin phones, announcing that it was ending production of the US variants and even cancelling the planned European launch.
#The cost and development of Kin phones were close to $1 billion. Neither Microsoft nor Verizon revealed how many units they sold, but someplace the figure at less than 10,000.
#Microsoft saw the Kin as “the next generation of social phones” but sadly it turned out to be the biggest product failure ever. The concept of a social phone was smart but the implementation was so poor. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer later admitted that the Kin project “just defocused activity from Windows Phone.” The debacle of Kin led to the departure of J Allard and Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division in May 2010.
#During the same year, in November, Verizon re-launched the two teen-centric Kin phones by slapping the letter ‘m’ onto brand names. This time, Verizon brought back the Kin One and Kin Two as feature phones. It was a clear attempt to get rid of excess inventories.