Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Kin Post-Mortem, Top-10 Style

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that their short-lived social networking-oriented phone, Kin, was being discontinued. I’m glad. In a post I wrote over a month ago, I implored Steve Ballmer to kill the product. I didn’t just do that because Kin 1 and 2 received terrible reviews; I had other reasons to distrust this product’s efficacy.

The Kin team has been led by Roz Ho, whose title has been Corporate Vice President, Premium Mobile Experiences. During the development cycle for Kin, a.k.a. Project "Pink," there was some reporting that Ms. Ho led the team badly. The team was the successor to the crew at Danger, the company that built the T-Mobile Sidekick, and which Microsoft acquired in 2008. The negative reporting on Ho included the suggestion that her leadership made for morale so low that most of the original Danger team quit their jobs.

Cnet’s Ina Fried broke the Kin killed story Wednesday. In her piece we learned that the Kin team would be merged into the Windows Phone 7 group and that:

"Roz Ho, the Microsoft executive who lead the unit that developed the Kin will oversee the transition of the team and then move to an as-yet-determined role at the company, according to a source."

None of this is surprising. Given the product’s history, it was clear to me that Microsoft would have to kill Kin. But Windows Phone 7, which still looks promising, got under development quite a while back. When that team was organized, the legacy Windows Mobile team was disbanded. Why didn’t Roz Ho get the heave ho, too? (Ahem!) With WP7 on track and looking good, why on earth did Microsoft bring Kin to market? Here are my top 10 reasons, some more serious than others (drum roll, please, Paul):

10. Taking down a Corporate VP wasn’t politically feasible. Kin had to be brought to market, and had to fail, in order to topple Ho from her position and consolidate power in the WP7 team.

9. The investment in Kin, both in terms of the Danger acquisition and subsequent development was really big. Ballmer figured he had to give it the old college try…and then bail quickly if indeed the phones were duds.

8. Verizon wanted their own Sidekick-like device (not wanting to cede that part of the market to T-Mobile) and implored Microsoft to persevere with Kin’s development.

7. Microsoft knew the Kin would fail, but they wanted to use it as a trial balloon for Kin Studio, the companion cloud service that replicates most data and content stored on the phone. This would help Microsoft determine if the Studio concept should be used with Windows Phone 7 when it launches later this year.

6. When the Kin team finished its work, it was nearing the end of Microsoft’s July 1 fiscal year. They had leftover TV ad budget and they had to spend it on something.

5. Microsoft got the three-letter domain name and they couldn’t let it go to waste.

4. Microsoft really didn’t want Sharp to be a Windows Phone OEM. They didn’t have the heart to tell them though. This was their passive-aggressive way of getting Sharp to back off.

3. Microsoft was angry at Engadget for their negative review of Kin. So they killed it and gave Gizmodo the scoop.

2. The announcement yesterday was an elaborate April Fool’s joke. But its ship date was delayed until the end of the quarter. and…

1. The whole thing was a dare to Verizon from Apple. Jobs said if they carried the Kin in earnest for 2 months, he’d give them the iPhone in January. And Verizon really wanted the iPhone.

I once worked for a guy who told me sarcasm was the lowest form of wit. So be it. I’m done now.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 07/02/2010 at 1:15 PM

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