Microsoft Kills the Kin and Won't Learn Anything Useful from It

Last Updated Jul 1, 2010 2:56 PM EDT

Microsoft (MSFT) introduced its Kin social networking phone 12 weeks ago. That was long enough to judge the product a failure, and the company has had a Kin funeral and the product has moved on to that Bad Concepts ranch in the sky.

Some people like my BNET colleague Ben Popper think that the entire undertaking was doomed from the start. But Microsoft had a big win. It finally stopped waiting, did something, and learned more, and came out with some technology and features that actually lead the pack. However, the company culture is so dysfunctional at this point that it may not retain any of the benefit, turning the Kin experience into a waste.

According to Engadget, the Kin back story is rife with mistakes:

  • Microsoft acquired Danger to leverage its Sidekick operating system.
  • Management told everyone to start over, because the company wanted everything to run using some version of Windows, pushing the release date back by 18 months.
  • Verizon got tired of waiting, became irritated, and decided not to offer the cheap pricing it had originally intended.
Microsoft screwed up big time, because an introduction in 2008 might have given the device more of a chance. The initial advertising, with undercurrents of appealing to teen sexual activity, was just as big a problem, as showed Microsoft to be exploitative. The social network functions were only half-heartedly implemented.

However, there were two big benefits from the attempt. One was an integration between phone operations and cloud computing that just worked. Take a photo or shoot a video with a Kin and it was safe in the cloud, ready to be sent out, as you wished. It was the type of seamless and simplified operation that usually eludes Microsoft.

The second was that Microsoft actually got off its collective rump and did something different. For years, personal ambition, ego and the cash cows of Windows and Office have crushed the life out of innovation and clear strategic thinking at the company. For once, Microsoft at least tried to concentrate on what people might actually want to do, and not on how to talk them into more upgrade copies of what they already owned.

Microsoft has folded the Kin people into the Windows Phone 7 group. However, keeping any benefit from the experience means focusing more on what customers want and less on protecting the company's old business lines, and I don't know that Microsoft is capable of doing that. It may be that Microsoft will continue to diminish in influence and become a necessary yet niche player focusing on operating systems and compatible productivity applications for a steadily shrinking market.


Coffin image: Flickr user Martin Burns, CC 2.0. Kin image: Microsoft. Photo editing: Erik Sherman.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.