So, two months following launch, Microsoft pulls the plug on its Kin platform (can't call it a smartphone ... phone maybe, or dumbphone ... suggestions please). The handset was aimed at tweens and teenagers, but was pricey and came shackled to a painfully expensive contract. It was Microsoft's latest "me too" product, and now it's all but sunk without a trace.
What the hell is going on at Microsoft?
Sidenote: I can't think of another Microsoft product, or one from such a high profile company, that got the legs knocked out from under it as quickly as Kin got toppled.
It's hard to know for sure why Microsoft pulled the plug on the handset. I tend to agree with Jon Honeyball over at PC Pro who thinks that the death of Kin coming mere hours before the end of the financial year for the Redmond giant is far from a coincidence. After all, the whole project can't have been cheap. Microsoft spend $500 million acquiring mobile services company Danger, and could have easily spent another $500 million on the project as a whole. That's a huge bonfire of cash. I can see why Microsoft would want to draw a line underneath the project if it was a commercial failure. But the sudden pulling of the plug shows that Microsoft had no long-term faith in being able to turn things around. It realized that Kin was a mistake - a big mistake - and put an end to it.
Another problem with Kin was that the project pushed Microsoft way outside of its comfort zone in terms of core competences. The tweens and teens market is a new one for Microsoft, and it blundered in seemingly with little clue as to what it was doing. My guess is that Microsoft was trying to make a follow-on to the Sidekick, but Sidekick was cool a few years ago, before the iPhone and before the Droid. Times have changed.
Also, lets face it, the two Kin handsets were ugly bits of engineering. Might seem superficial, but considering the market they were aimed at, it was a critical point.
This isn't the first product to erode from under Microsoft this year. Earlier we had Courier and the HP Slate. Looking back I'm not entirely sure if either of these products were actually serious products, or more of an attempt at FUDing away some of the iPad hype.
The death of Kin leaves me with some important questions for Microsoft relating to Windows Phone 7. First is how can developers, who Microsoft are hoping to entice over to the WP7 platform, have any confidence in that platform? Sure, Microsoft is giving all sort of reassurances that its energies are now being diverted to WP7, but until yesterday the message was that it was pushing Kin and WP7 as separate platforms (with some vague convergence point somewhere in the future). Words ...
Another question is who now, knowing the fate of Kin, will be happy to be a WP7 early adopter? It's not so much questioning the validity of WP7, but more Microsoft's approach to the hardware side of things. Microsoft is only really interested in the licensing money for the OS, which means it farms out the hardware to a bunch of third-party OEMs. These OEMs want to make the cheapest product possible so farm out manufacturing to the lowest bidder. What does this all mean? That ultimately there's little or no difference between a WP7 handset from one vendor or another, making the whole endeavour a race to the bottom.
Thirdly, how has this soured relations between Verizon and Microsoft? Hard to imagine there being no fallout on that front.
Finally, what do shareholders make of this? A billion dollars down the pan is a lot of dough to blow on a project that sees light for two month.
The sudden rise and fall of the Kin is a clear pointer to the fact that Microsoft has no clear mobile strategy. The company is flailing wildly, throwing money about like it's a solution to everything. It isn't. the phrase that lingers in my head to describe Microsoft's current mobile plan is "here today, gone tomorrow ...".