Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

Summary: We Microsoft watchers are all armchair quarterbacking today, the day after Microsoft basically pulled the plug on its short-lived Kin phones for the teen/twenty-something market. But I haven't seen many folks look closely at the Kin development timeline.

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We Microsoft watchers are all armchair quarterbacking today, the day after Microsoft basically pulled the plug on its short-lived Kin phones for the teen/twenty-something market.

The pricey Verizon data plan killed it, some say. Microsoft decision to redo the Java-centric Danger OS and turn it into a Windows Embedded Compact one marked the beginning of the end, say others. A lack of downloadable apps, weird ad campaigns, phones that attempted to straddle the feature-phone/smartphone market all are cited as the Kin's undoing.

But I haven't seen many folks look closely at the Kin development timeline.

In the early days of its development, Kin (then known as Pink), was going to share the same core as Windows Mobile 7. But Microsoft decided to do a Longhorn-style reset and scrapped the WM 7 project. One result was a delay in the delivery of its next mobile operating system. In fact, neither the Windows Embedded Compact 7 core, nor the Windows Phone 7 operating system has been released to manufacturing yet. That meant the Kin team couldn't use these components; they had to use an older version of the Windows Embedded Compact operating system.

A couple of May posts on the anonymously-penned Mini Microsoft blog made reference to the internal skirmishes over the operating system for the Kin phones. Yes, these comments are anonymous and could be from trolls rather than actual Softies, but they're pretty detailed if they're fake. Here are two pertinent comments:

Anonymous said:

Glad you named KIN, as I used to work there until few months ago. KIN was a great and ambitious project...until May 2009. The business, marketing, design vision was just spectacular! In May 2009, Mr. Myerson, decided to kill it because it was competing with his own baby, WP7. Since WP7 was not ready (still today is by far ready!) the exec told him KIN would continue. As retaliation, he killed the support of his team to KIN project. Guess what? KIN team had to take over a lot of base code postponing all the value added apps+services. Now you get why there is lack of apps on KIN. Who will win in medium/long term? Mr Myerson obviously, that's why I decide to leave.

Monday, May 31, 2010 10:29:00 AM

(The "Mr. Myerson" here is Terry Myerson, the head of Windows Phone engineering.)

An "Anonymous" retort to the original "Anonymous":

The previous poster conveniently neglects the fact that Kin's original plans were unrealistic - they were going to release a WP7 based device before WP7 was complete. It ignores the fact that the core WP7 team needed to focus on shipping a WP7 phone and that supporting a different additional hardware platform runs counter to that.

Since WP7 was not ready (still today is by far ready!) the exec told him KIN would continue. As retaliation, he killed the support of his team to KIN project.

Had KIN management had any accountability, they would have built on top of the WP7 platform instead of grabbing several hundred people to do a one-off and then whining about the lack of support for an off platform device.

Guess what? KIN team had to take over a lot of base code postponing all the value added apps+services. Now you get why there is lack of apps on KIN. Who will win in medium/long term? Mr Myerson obviously, that's why I decide to leave.

Of course, the fact that for the 1st two years the Kin plan was NOT to provide a competing application platform seems to have gone unnoticed in your little post.

The beauty of Kin is indeed the online services, which should translate well to WP7 when the time comes. Everything else is a flaming turd. This is one of those cases where MCB should have gotten all of its wood behind one arrow. Instead, management spent millions on Danger and defocused the core teams on sideshow oddities such as Kin....

Tuesday, June 01, 2010 11:33:00 AM

Next page: So is Sinofsky the winner who will take all?

Another timeline I'd like to see is which happened first: Entertainment & Devices President Robbie Bach's and Chief Experience Officer J Allard's "decisions" to leave Microsoft or the top-level decision to kill the Kin.

Like any big company, Microsoft is plagued by lots of feuding fiefdoms. It's a dog-eat-dog world, even inside Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business. I wonder how the remaining Kin team members are going to feel now that they're being moved under the Windows Phone 7 leadership, if these posts are any indication of the rivalry between them.

Meanwhile, speaking of fiefdoms, the rumor that Windows President Steven Sinofsky is going to end up taking over the Microsoft Mobile business has heated up again. (That rumor originally started circulating in January 2010.)

Sinofsky already has a lot on his plate, heading up both Windows and Windows Live. And with Windows 8 beginning to take shape, he's going to be getting even busier in the coming months. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sinofsky triumph if he does decide he wants the mobile business, too.

As one of my tipsters, who asked to remain anonymous, said when I asked whether Sinofsky might end up running the mobile unit -- once CEO Steve Ballmer decides to relinquish control: "I'm sure of it based on the Windows 8 work and lack of new president for E&D. (Sinofsky) must have showed him the 3 release plan where he runs all of the Marketplaces, including mobile."

There could be an interesting shark-tank battle. I'm doubtful we'll see outgoing E&D President Robbie Bach or Chief Experience Officer J Allard do a Dick Brass and write an op-ed piece exposing the role the inter/intra-division rivalries play in Microsoft's product strategies. But maybe another exiting mobile employee might end up penning a tell-all....

Topics: Microsoft, CXO, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

    I don't know, design decisions need to be made in any project. I still say this was a Verizon issue. The $30 plan wasn't worth it as well as Verizon being known for charging a ridiculous subscription fee for their apps. This stinks more of Verizon than anything behind the scenes at Microsoft.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @DonnieBoy
      Verizon probably gave them a large sum of money to do so, then once the deal was done Verizon turned around and charged excessive amounts. The deal was good until Verizon went bad.
      Loverock Davidson
    • Loverboy, still no reason to cancel Kin if what you say is true. They can

      just move over to another carrier. If Kin is a good phone, its fate does NOT rest with just one carrier.
      DonnieBoy
    • This is Microsoft's fault, not Verizon's

      You can't blame Verizon.<br><br>The Kin automatically uploaded every photo to Microsoft's server. This used a huge amount of network data. That's not Verizon's fault. That's Microsoft's fault for bringing to market a data-hog phone that would hence be unaffordable by its target market.
      Vbitrate
      • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

        @Market Analyst
        I can and did and proved why.
        Loverock Davidson
    • MS failures are always someone else's fault

      This one a Verizon issue;-)
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

        @Richard Flude
        Exactly, glad to see you admit it now.
        Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @Loverock Davidson And again the KIN is/ was a smartphone not a feature phone so VZW charged the customers for a smartphone data plan. Microsoft could have taken the KIN to Sprint or made a version that works with AT&T or T-Mobile but I can guarantee that every other carrier would have seen the KIN as a smartphone and charged for the data plans accordingly.
      athynz
  • I think the main question, has MS missed the boat for good?

    They seem to have been caught completely flat footed in all things mobile, and with iPhone and Android, RIM and Intel, etc, is there really going to be any way for MS to regain or compete in the mobile space? They have no leverage enforce Windows Mobile (whatever the name will be) as the only way to get things done.

    It's a serious question I have. It's 2Q 2010, and MS might have an offering in the wild on a phone in 2Q2011. By then, is it simply too late?

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @DonnieBoy MS is way behind all the mobile phone OS's
      mrlinux
    • WARNING: Don't invest in Windows Phone 7

      We can see Microsoft running around like the Keystone Kops.

      Software programmers would be mad to invest any time or resources into the Microsoft Mobile Fiasco. Windows Phone 7 will fail just like all Microsoft's other mobile devices.
      Vbitrate
      • If you say so!

        @Market Analyst Gosh, since you're a Market Analyst you must know what you're talking about!
        Lester Young
      • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

        @Market Analyst What company do you work for cause I want to make sure none of my money is there.

        Do you have any idea how many programmers there are out there that are writing in XNA and Silverlight today? The pool of developers for Windows Phone is enormous and today those people do not write for the iphone. Windows Phone is a chance for them use their talents to increase their income and you can bet that they will do just that.

        The only want it will not happen is if they are foolish enough to believe people like you that tell them its a lost cause, just like the Apple fanboys told the Linux developers 20 months ago stating that they iphones lead was insurmountable.

        Look at history and you will be able to tell the future.
        chieftom
      • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

        @chieftom:

        "Do you have any idea how many programmers there are out there that are writing in XNA and Silverlight today?"

        If no one buys the phone, how will these alleged legions of programmers make any money?

        ...and what do we have to go one besides your bald assertions, anyway? Can you back up any of the talk? I'm asking this because all of these iPhone-hating XNA/Silverlight developers you refer to seem to be conspicuously absent.

        (damn - nasty ol' logic sucks sometimes, doesn't it?)

        Personally, I see Microsoft has having to do three things in order to remain relevant in the mobile biz:

        1) come up with a mobile OS that not only meets what's out there, but beats it.
        2) get Verizon and a boatload of other carriers to offer BOGO deals on phones running WinMo 7... like they do with the Android now.
        3) literally give away the licenses to have any hope of not being ignored in favor of the Android (which costs $0.00 per phone, appears to be popular, is far more customizable, and has more features now than WinMo 7 is proposed to have at launch).
        Random_Walk
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @TripleII IMHO Microsoft missed the boat by a few years - instead of deriding the iPhone and keeping on with the WM 6x platform they should have put more effort into revamping their ancient mobile OS and developed WP7 earlier... instead they just plodded along with WM and it wasn't until Android made their big entrance on the mobile scene that Microsoft began to take things seriously.
      athynz
      • MS is approaching irrelevance and a slow death...

        @athynz MS is stuck in the nineties, incapable of innovation. Their cash cows Windows, Office and Server software is just going thru the motions. It may take 10 or 20 years but the picture is pretty clear... a dinosaur extinction a la Polaroid or Kodak.

        Meanwhile, Google and Apple are leading the way...
        prof123
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @TripleII No, I don't see room for them in the consumer space...Android and iPhones are very advanced and it will be hard to 'wow' people with a 1.0 OS version and a promise of updates to follow, even if they were releasing phones today.

      But what they could/should do is go after the enterprise/professional users. I completely agree with Jason Perlow on this. They will need some very good phones, that are global-capable, and probably with hardware keyboards and *optional* cameras. And they need really tight security, encryption, remote admin/wipe, top-of-the-line mobile Office apps, all of which is well within their reach.

      If they went this way, they could almost certainly dislodge RIM, and demonstrate that the platform is viable enough for 3rd-party app developers to support. This in turn would allow them to gradually push into the consumer space.

      But I don't think they will go this way. I think they will try to go head-to-head with Droids and iPhones, and fail miserably, because they won't be able to compete with Android's price or development cycle, nor will they be able to replicate the iPhone's consumer appeal.
      Richard in Phoenix
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @TripleII I don't think so. The iphone launched 3.5 years ago, Android launched about 20 months ago and in the month of May outsold the iphone. How can anyone write of WinPho7 after seeing how quickly the market can swing. People said that Android could never catch up to the iphone because of the huge advantage Apple had with the App store. Well, they have. Microsoft has as good a chance as Android did 20 months ago.

      The smartphone market is a constantly moving. There is no beginning and there is no end, it is always evolving. There will always be room for a new player to enter the market and change the landscape just as Apple did 3.5 years ago
      chieftom
  • Obviously, Microsoft has a lot of huge internal problems that contributed

    to the failure. No group in Microsoft is free to go out and innovate the best way they know how. Rule one is that you can NOT cannibalize or reduce the value in any way of Windows or Office.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: Kin: More proof that warring fiefdoms rule at Microsoft

      @DonnieBoy This is why MSFT is doomed. They cling bitterly to the past instead of innovating and take what comes. if they have to lay off 50% of their workforce, so be it.
      MSFTWorshipper