Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

Summary: The announcement of Microsoft's two new student-focused phones, the Kin One and Kin Two, didn't go down too well with me, frankly. Opinion

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I've taken this past 24 hours to really soak in the news of Microsoft's mobile announcement. Officially announced yesterday, two phones named the KIN One and the KIN Two, these devices will be aimed at teenagers, students and the Generation Y to take control of their online social lives.

Just so we're all on the same page, courtesy of CNET, here is what was announced.

I'll start off gently and openly applaud Microsoft for taking this strong stance and seemingly popular move. As far as corporations go, the student market is often neglected and not taken into account. Microsoft has taken this step over the last few years, especially since the start of this calendar year, by including the Generation Y as part of their target audience and remit. Forget what they have actually produce; that isn't important in this context. The fact they have shifted their focus and shuffled their internal strategy - this alone - should be applauded.

And now the bad news. These devices are doomed to fail, and when they inevitably do, they will take Microsoft's Generation Y focus down with it. This is worst case scenario, in my opinion. But the reasons are important to take to note.

Who says what, exactly?

Why has Facebook become so popular with students, with other lesser used social networks like Bebo about to face the firing squad? In a nutshell, the reason is simple; the reasoning however may not be, but stick with me on this one. Facebook is popular because we as a generation chose it to be. There were no advertisements or marketing as such to entice students and teenagers in - just the fact that the ripple effect of our friends joining spurred the rest of us into joining ourselves.

The Generation Y choose the technology, the products and the services to use and to buy. The market doesn't dictate to us, and we do not usually conform to products or services "aimed" at us. If we want to use it, we will, but not because a company or organisation says we should based on what they offer.

Twitter isn't a huge thing for students, still. Five months ago, I said Twitter isn't really for students unless you have something to promote. I use it for work, mostly. Those who are involved in student societies, student union's or political activity use it a fair bit but for not really for personal gain.

There will be no applications for the Kin phones

This says it all, really, and there is nothing else to say about it. Well, maybe "bah" and "humbug", and "this is why it is doomed to fail", but nothing more.

The devices: the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly

They are ugly, aren't they? When I was a younger lad, going back a few years to when I was 13 or so, the science fiction programmes on the television had communication devices which look very similar to the Kin One - similar to those flip-open make-up "things" that women often carry around with them.

Times have changed though. One of the reasons the iPhone took off the way that it did was not just the mobile application expandability but also the simplicity and aesthetics of the device. The BlackBerry range is the same; they look modern and fashionable but aren't really aimed at students. The Kin One looks like a relic of the Star Trek days and the Kin Two looks like a blunt instrument you could kill a grown man with.

iPhone users will probably not be convinced. Ina Fried, CNET, said it exactly as I thought it: "The Kin isn't the iPhone".

The network operators need to play ball too.

Seeing as these devices are social network focused, with Facebook, Twitter, text and instant messaging, Microsoft expects these phone users to be sending a fair bit of data across the networks. Well, let's face it: the full QWERTY keyboard gives it away. But Microsoft doesn't control or even have that much say in the data transfer rates of the phone network providers.

Verizon Wireless will be selling the device on its network, but has not stated how much the device will cost. If it is in fact aimed at the younger generation, not only will it have to be something we can afford without having to cut our food budget for the month, but also be cheap in the long run. The network features such as streaming music with your Zune Pass, could run up high data usage and therefore high costs.

Having your own in-house femtocell would potentially solve this problem, but you shouldn't be expected to buy additional hardware to keep your network data costs down. The networks will need to ensure that users of these data intensive phones aren't running up data bills higher than their tuition fees.

So...

The device will be out in May in the US and in the second half of this year for Europe but has still yet to be priced. I just fear that this is doomed to fail, unless Microsoft can pull some serious, convincing marketing out of its butt. I suspect that many potential users are still looking for a killer feature, instead of a simple consolidation of on-the-go social network access which most phones provide nowadays anyway.

Feel free to leave your scathing criticisms below.

Topics: BlackBerry, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility

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20 comments
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  • 4 reasons you're wrong

    First, the device is out NEXT MONTH. Second, we don't know the data plan details yet, so can we hold off on the criticism of them? I agree a lower cost plan would help. Third, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. The iPhone is dull (and now, very dated) in appearance. Fourth, the tech press conventional wisdom is that everyone wants to download apps. The evidence seems to be the apps downloaded by iPhone users. There are still far more phones that aren't iPhones being used, most of which don't download apps. CW is frequently wrong and may well be again here. In all that Gen Y testing you priased, you don't think this subject came up?
    cantbeme
    • Kids don't seem to want apps

      My nieces and nephews, ages 15-20, can have any Verizon phone they want. None has a smart phone - they seem to choose phones based on the ease of sending text messages. IMO apps are irrelevant to this demographic, and I suspect these Kin phones will be successful (but I agree that the cost of the data plan will be an important factor).
      1DaveN
    • You're right - made edits

      Sorry - you were right. In Europe it'll be out in "fall" so towards the end of this year, but in the US - yeah, it'll be available from May. I've added the link at the bottom.
      zwhittaker
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    iPhones users won't be convinced? Seriously? What you are talking about? Could you get these devices less?
    Helio99000
  • interesting analysis

    I think the real question here is, do feature phones have a future? If so ... how will they be priced?

    Almost invariably carriers price querty/touchscreen phones as smart phones, with data plans and non-free handsets. If cheap enough, I think there is some sort of tween market here ... but I doubt that will happen. What good is an 8mp camera or streaming music downloads if they can't be used w/o a data plan.

    What would be cool here is a pay as you go option, perfect for the tweens. This thing is way too hamstrung to be relevant to high school or college students.
    mobile_manny
  • For most young people, iPhone (etc.) is completely irrelevant

    For most young people, iPhone and other smartphones are completely irrelevant, because they can't afford the data contracts.

    Since Kin was designed as a featurephone (not smartphone) for young people, it's a safe bet that it will come with an affordable usage contract.

    (Yes, Kin will sink or swim based on the expense of the data contract.)

    As for aesthetics, the Kin looks nice to me.
    Tom12Tom
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    I will have to disagree with your opinion on these phones. I believe they will be a surprising success just because they have facebook and twitter integrated in them. The UI is surprisingly different and refreshing as well. For a feature phone this has everything I would need in it. There is only one thing that will stop them, see the last paragraph.

    The issue of no applications, that may have been more of a Verizon restriction. If you ever had a feature phone by them you would know there are maybe 2 or 3 free apps, the rest require a monthly subscription fee. I really don't know anyone who has paid for an app on a Verizon phone, so this lack of apps isn't a big deal.

    The Kin 1 is ugly, but it was also made to be used with just one hand which is why it has the odd shape. The Kin 2 I don't see anything wrong with it. Looks like a normal phone to me.

    The biggest problem will be the pricing, not of the phone itself but the data plans. Verizon offers 25mb of data for $9.99 a month, or unlimited for $29 a month. If they force the unlimited plan then I will agree these phones are doomed to fail because you might as well buy a smart phone, the monthly bill will be the same and you can do more on it.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Kin 1

    Looks like a toilet from above.
    MC_z
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    There are other Social Network focused smart-phones out there, and they haven't done well ... Moto Blur anyone?

    Unless these phones and their plans are very cheap, they will suffer the same fate. PAYG would be huge.
    mobile_manny
  • 'Kin 2

    Looks like a Droid only the Droid has Apps like games that you can play without a datastream. Dead man walking alert. M$ does it again.
    zclayton2
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    I love the way people seem to always fall into two camps, "the I hate Microsoft camp", and the "I really hate Microsoft camp". The author here I suspect belongs to the "I really hate Microsoft camps". He completely misses the boat and doesn't even recognize all the power and nice touches that Microsoft put into the Kin. HD Video, Radio, Zune Music with streaming and monthly subscription capability, GREAT 5 or 8 Megapixel camera, high quality capacitive screen from SHARP, amazing software both on the device and in the cloud. This guy just doesn't get it. It blows away most offerings out there, and probably ALL offerings out there in this price range (believe me, MSFT and Verizon will price this correctly). There will always be kids who want that Iphone, but that's where Windows 7 comes in -- windows 7 phones will be the true competitor for that niche. But, the KIN demographic is so much bigger than this author realizes. Wait and see.
    georgeh36
    • I agree

      this is guy usually quite reasonable. I don't know why this time act like this.
      jk_10
  • Another Gen Y Perspective

    I have to disagree with your article as a fellow
    member of the Gen Y (born in 1988) collective.

    Who says what, exactly?
    I couldn't disagree more. Our generation absolutely is
    just as obsessed with what's popular and cool looking
    than any other. I would direct you to the iPod &
    iEverything phenomenon. While I don't personally like
    the Apple universe of products (mostly because of
    lock-in) most of my peers do and consume Apple
    products like crazy.

    There will be no applications for the Kin phones
    I agree this is a bit of a drawback, but honestly,
    many people I know also fall into two other camps
    about this: 1)they're annoyed by all the apps because
    most are crap and many bog down the overall
    performance of their technology, and more importantly
    2) many aren't that tech savvy and just want things to
    work without having to hunt around and read reviews
    and configure things to get them to work
    I think the tech savvy will be into WinPhone7, and
    this Kin's target the less tech savvy GenY market.

    The devices: the good, the bad, and the very, very
    ugly
    Kin: the poor kid's iPhone. Assuming that Verizon has
    good pricing on the data plans for the Kin phones, I
    think you're wrong, because I think many of the
    younger end GenY people can't get their parents to
    fork over $100 per month for iPhone service. Further,
    I disagree these devices are ugly, although perhaps
    not as sleek as the iPhone, I think the younger GenY
    less tech savvy people will appreciate the keyboards
    and overall great UI experience that "just works"
    Edesw88
    • RE: Edesw88

      I'm a 1988 lad too. I'm glad you've got an opposing argument though; keeps this job interesting and keeps me on my toes :)

      I see what you mean about the Apple thing. I'm not a huge fan, and agree with you on that (see my earlier post, late last week I think). I also agree with your applications point - some people actively use their phones and "twiddle" with them when they're bored (like me) and some use it literally for their functions - phone, text, occasionally email.

      With hindsight, maybe the Kin One might be appealing to the much younger generation - younger-mid teenagers perhaps - but with students being as pompous as we are (we really are!) I think we might feel foolish having a phone looking like this.

      But - time will tell. I do really want to get my hands on one. I've been known to take one opinion then six months later change it. Twitter for example. I hated it at first, but then I stuck it out and it's become quite useful and fun, actually. We're a shifting generation and we change our minds a lot about what we use and how we use things.

      But frankly - at the end of the day - when I get comments from people like you, other Generation Y'ers, even if you don't agree, it doesn't matter to me. The point is, you're actively taking an opinion and that's what I'm here for. Kick start a conversation, talk about these things, see what our generation want.

      That's what makes this job worthwhile. :)
      zwhittaker
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    Pffft.. if they forget gen Y, they'll be back.

    ..they always come back.
    Shrug
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    Too Little and WAY to late. This is a triumph of marketing
    over imagination... Sorry, imagination hasn't happened at
    Microsoft since MS DOS... Whoops... That was a ripoff of
    CP/M (Gen Y ask your parents about CP/M). I believe the
    work here is LAME.... Really, Really, LAME.
    nhtemplar@...
  • Star Trek Retro...?

    Zack -

    Are you kidding? Star Trek? I don't know which generation you mean - the original series or the TNG stuff, but I don't really recall anything in either that resembled those two phones. The Kin One does look a bit like another phone that was out not too long ago on Sprint. I forget what it was called. In fact, I think it may have been made by Sprint.

    The Kin Two looks like pretty much any candy-bar slider phone out there. Ugly? Meh.. If you say so. It looks more like an iPhone that has a slide out keyboard.

    Now if you want a phone that has that Star Trek Retro thing going for it - check out the now 5 year old Motorola A1200... Except for the cover which is clear plastic on the A1200, it looks a LOT like the old Star Trek communicators.

    Applications: Eh.. Ok.. That may be an issue. Then again, maybe not.

    As far as Facebook popularity goes: Gee.. Let me guess. You got on it because you heard about it from a friend. You didn't just magically suddenly pop onto the site and sign up without hearing about it from someone you know.

    That, my friend, is still advertising of the "word of mouth" variety. I'll wager most of the stuff you're into came about along those lines. You may not have watched ads for product X, Y or Z, but someone, somewhere in your life probably told you about it.

    And trust me... This phenomenon is nothing new. It was true in my day (Gen X'er here) and it's true since time immemorial going back to when one of our apelike ancestors started walking on two legs.

    The thing is, I read something on ZDNet somewhere yesterday about the Kin - it seems the development team interviewed like 50,000 of your fellow Gen-Y'ers about the kind of things they wanted in a device like this - all before ONE single line of code was written. So there may yet be some method to their apparent madness in releasing these phones as they are.
    Wolfie2K3
  • Microsoft will never be cool

    This reminds me of the rather bizarre advertising associated with the Zune.
    "Welcome to the Social".

    What, what?

    The Kin website is more of the same, Videos of actors playing a bunch of self-absorbed hipsters that everybody hates in real life because they're worthless additions to the gene pool.

    You might as well glamorize prison culture, oh wait Boost Mobile already has done that, never mind.
    monkeyman1140@...
  • No, it's perfect for its market

    Ugly? The Kin One is cute as a bug. My niece already wants one and, heck, so do I - and I don't do social networking. I carry a Blackberry (8830) and it is dull. Black, corporate, dorky screen, all stultifying business. Now that thing is ugly.

    "similar to those flip-open make-up "things" that women often carry around with them." Heh. I imagine you nervously crossing your legs as you typed this. Your dismissal of this device as feminine shows how badly you've misunderstood the market. Do you know *why* women carry compacts (not "things", dude, compacts)? Because they are easy to slip into a purse or pocket, fit neatly in small, female hands, are sturdy enough to protect their contents, and usually come in pretty colors and shapes. They don't only hold make-up, either.

    No apps? The device *IS* the app. I can hear my niece and her friends already - "Download *apps*? On my *phone*? That's what my *dad* does... [roll eyes]" Why download stuff if it already does exactly what you want?

    The teens & tweens who will use this device are very much not you. They want an instant way to stay in touch with their friends and family and not have to think about apps. They aren't embarrassed at carrying something feminine (the guys can always pick the long, rectangular model), and definitely do not want to use the same phone that Mom & Dad are packing around.

    From a technology standpoint, these are 100% cloud devices. The interface is clever and engaging. The quality cameras are a stroke of genius. It does voice, text and photos, it does it simply, and it will get snapped up if there is a relatively cheap data plan.

    It's not going to be a major force in the phone market, but it will succeed in the tween niche. And maybe with a few of us over the hill 40-somethings, too.
    wafsd
  • RE: Microsoft's Kin: The (much needed) Generation Y perspective

    Gen Y continues to be a hot topic in marketing circles.
    For many, they're a confusing bunch. Technology, luxury,
    marriage, children...all ways in which Gen Y is
    redefining the norms. Luckily, there are some great
    places for marketers, like myself, to get this kind of
    information. One of my favorite new organizations, L2,
    is putting on a fabulous conference on May 14, 2010 in
    New York City. Check out the details:
    http://budurl.com/JeffreyBisGenY. Cheers!
    behm0027