When the Kin devices launched in April we already knew a little bit about them. Previously known as “Project Pink” these were “social phones” to let children, teenagers and twenty-somethings share their life and thoughts with friends. They launched in May on Verizon, but the data-hungry devices needed chunky data plans which pushed up the cost of ownership. The reviews weren’t good, and just a month after going on sale the alarm bells started to ring as Verizon reduced prices on the handsets. Yesterday, as Microsoft reaches the end of their fiscal year and just a short time in shops, they were binned. The planned expansion into Europe has been dropped and only the existing stock will be sold in the US.
The team working on Kin are said to be moving to Windows Phone 7, although there’s only months until the launch of this, so it’s difficult to see how they’ll fit in at such a crucial stage. Where did it all go wrong? There seems to be a number of factors. Firstly, although the research was good, it took far too long to hit the market. When it did, the competition had moved in and were already doing everything better. A dedicated “social phone” wasn’t needed any more because Android and other competitors were already doing it, and you could download apps too. Secondly of course was the price. The target market don’t have the funds for relatively expensive long contracts, despite how cheap they may look to some. Those that do have the funds just bought an iPhone instead, because they cost about the same. Thirdly, the product launched with some important features missing, like the ability to retweet and reply to people on Twitter. Updates were scheduled to add extra functionality, but the “launch it now, fix it later” attitude was too much. This approach can work for some (like Apple), but not for a new product trying to gain acceptance in the market.
What worries us on that last point is the fact that Windows Phone 7 could be heading down the same road. When we heard from inside Microsoft it was clear that “extra features” like copy and paste and multi-tasking were “nice to have” but not in Version 1. Sure, maybe later it would be added in an update, but not yet. There seems to be a rush to get it onto the market and, whilst we love the over-the-air updates that most devices have now, you should’t be adding essential features later to an all-new product in a crowded market with strong competition. These features need to be available now, otherwise people will just continue to choose Android, iPhone or another handset which also features an on-board app-store brimming with downloads.