Last week, Microsoft decided to kill off the Kin, a brand-new pair of phones aimed at the younger social networking crowd. Microsoft pulled the plug after the devices were in the market for less than two months. The reasons behind the product's failure are becoming more numerous by the day, but I don't think the sales figures were the only reason.
Reports circulated nearly a month ago that Microsoft had sold only 500 Kin devices with partner Verizon Wireless. Recently, blogger John Gruber was told by a tipster than the actual number was 503. If you look at the Kin Facebook application page, however, it shows that there are about 8,810 active Kin users. That's a pretty low figure for any device, let alone one that Microsoft spent about $1 billion developing.
When the Kin debuted in early May, the first wave of reviews were abysmal. I can't recall a single positive review of the device, and major tech sites such as Engadget, CNet and Gizmodo pretty much panned it as one of the worst devices to reach market in recent memory. My own experience with it was mixed at best. The hardware felt cheap, and the features were too limited.
Verizon Wireless didn't help with the smartphone pricing plans. Both phones required a $40 monthly voice plan and a $30 monthly data plan (Verizon contended that Kin users would chomp through bandwidth by uploading content). That's $70 per month. The two-year cost of either Kin device will run $1,680 before taxes and fees, which typically add about $10 to monthly bills. On yeah, text messaging isn't included at all in these plans. What do teens like to do? Text their little thumbs off, that's what. Unlimited messaging plans run another $20, pushing the monthly total to $90. That's a lot of money for a teenager (or a teen's parents) to pay.
Whether it was Microsoft of Verizon Wireless, the Kin and its pricing plan showed a complete lack of understanding about the targeted user segment.
Another legitimate issued face by Kin is that the Kin One and Two handsets are not smartphones. Not even remotely. They offer a neat user interface with some cool social networking integration on the home screen, but the list of things the Kin phones can't do far outweighs the number of things the Kin can. Here's a short list of features not available on Kin: calendar, voice notes, voice commands, maps or navigation, calculator, no YouTube, no weather, no games (no games on a phone for teens?!?), no apps. That's right, no applications of any kind whatsoever.
With bad reviews, bad pricing, and limited features, it is little wonder than the Kin flopped so badly.
As evidence mounts that in-fighting between Microsoft employees and divisions also played a role, it is clear that the Kin was likely doomed from the start.
The real concern is how Microsoft will regroup and make sure that Windows Phone 7 has a successful launch. Make no mistake, if Windows Phone 7 fails, Microsoft is in real trouble when it comes to mobile. Apple, Google, and RIM are eating Microsoft's launch when it comes to mobile. Microsoft had the lead in the smartphone space -- especially for enterprises -- and lost it badly to faster-moving competitors.
I am sure the public fall-out of the Kin debacle will continue. I can only hope that Microsoft moves past that and puts its best foot forward when Windows Phone 7 launches later this year.