Microsoft Unveils Kin Windows Phones

The new line of Microsoft phones have a heavy emphasis on social networking.

Microsoft today unveiled its new line of Kin Windows phones, marketed specifically toward the hyperkinetic teen, social networking and partier crowd.

The devices, made by Sharp, are part of Microsoft's Windows Phone series and include the Kin One and Kin Two models, both with sliding keyboards. The Kin Two has a bigger keyboard and screen than the Kin One and includes greater memory (eight GB vs. four GB). The Kin Two also has the distinction of being able to record high-definition video.

Both phones include cameras with flash and low-light capabilities. The Kin One includes a five megapixel camera, whereas users get an eight megapixel camera in the Kin Two.

Microsoft partnered with Verizon in the U.S. market on the Kin phones. Verizon is the exclusive U.S. provider of Kin phones, which will arrive sometime in May. Users will be able to share photos and information anywhere in the United States using the phones over Verizon's 3G network.

Microsoft also partnered with Vodafone, which will provide Kin phones in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, introduced the new phones wearing an untucked pink shirt in a Webcast on Monday. The shirt may have been an oblique reference to reports that Microsoft had a semi-secret group, called "Project Pink," working on a successor to T-Mobile's Sidekick mobile phone, which used technology Microsoft acquired from Danger Inc. in 2008.

Sidekick, like Kin, leverages storage over the Internet cloud and Microsoft is saying that Kin users will have unlimited on-the-fly storage for their photos and data. Late last year, a server glitch caused some Sidekick users to lose data, although Microsoft later restored much of it. It's not clear why T-Mobile isn't part of the Kin announcement, although Microsoft announced a partnership with T-Mobile and Windows Phone on an HTC device back in January. It's also not clear what network infrastructure Microsoft will use to support Kin users.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Microsoft's Kin One (right) and Kin Two (left).

Sidekick was T-Mobile's brand but Kin is Microsoft's, noted Michael Gartenberg, a partner with the Altimeter Group.

"Kin is based on a lot of the learning that Microsoft did with the Danger group, and in many ways it may be a spiritual descendent from Sidekick, but it's an entirely new device," Gartenberg explained in a phone interview.

Microsoft surveyed thousands of users as part of its "Project Muse" to determine what capabilities to build into the Kin phones. Microsoft found that people held onto their old mobile phones because they did not know how to get the photos off them. Consequently, much of the user interface built into the Kin phones is designed facilitate quick storage and sharing of photos and information.

"The onboard storage of the device -- four gig and eight gig -- is really just caching your content," Gartenberg said. "And your content is always and persistently backed up online to the cloud accessible to the Web browser."

Microsoft showcased three user interface features built into the Kin phones that address the social needs of targeted users. One of the UI improvements is called "the Spot," a green dot at the bottom of the screen where users can drag objects, such as photos. After the user has collected the objects to send, another screen allows them to be sent to their friends and contacts.

"The Loop" is the home screen used for the Kin phones. It allows users to prioritize their friends and provides always-on updates. Users can comment on the incoming feeds via a single tab. Kin phones deliver Web feeds from various social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. They can also tap into Microsoft's Zune resources to access music and provide "millions of songs" in the pocket, according to Derick Snyder, a senior project manager at Microsoft, in the Webcast.

Finally, Kin Studio lets users access their entire phone content using any Web browser. Kin Studio also integrates the Spot UI and provides a timeline where users can access the history of their phone's activity. Photos are automatically geotagged, allowing users to recall where and when they took photos.

"What they've presented makes an awful lot of sense," Gartenberg said of the Kin phones. "Of course it's all about execution and marketing. Unlike Windows Phone 7, which is going to ship much later this year, this is a product that's going to be available in the next few weeks."

Microsoft may have chosen the Kin name to honor the efforts of Charlie Kindel, who is responsible for coordinating the Windows Phone 7 Series developer experience, although Microsoft didn't explicitly say so.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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