Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A-Kin to a Piece of Junk

Reports surfaced a few weeks ago that Microsoft is discontinuing the KIN, it's line of underwhelming smart phones. This is not surprising news, as the Kin is a piece of junk (more on that later….although to be fair, as an Apple early adopter, I pretty much think that every Microsoft product is basically a really expensive paperweight with fancy circuitry).

The KIN was marketed, in its short tenure--something like 50 days, maybe even less--as a media machine. The intended audience, the cool media-obsessed twenty-somethings, who would clearly much rather have an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android device.

A bit of background information to put this mobile blunder into context: The pre-curser to the KIN was the much joked about (but actually incredibly forward thinking) Danger Hiptop, also known as the Sidekick. If nobody remembers that particular paperweight, it was a mobile device with an actual keyboard--much bigger, but similar in design to the KIN--that was an early smartphone (originally marketed in 2002).

At the time of its release, a smartphone targeted to younger generations that had so many possibilities to harness the power of the rushing river of social-media that would begin flow just a few short years later (I hear that social media thing is a big deal), was indeed ahead of its time. Owing to terrible marketing, T-Mobile being a second rate cellular company, and the device being generally crappy; the Sidekick never made it into the big-time (except maybe the big-time of jokes made by me at my few friends who had one of these things--you know who you are, I apologize for nothing).

Microsoft bought Danger Incorporated (the original manufacturer of the phone) in 2008. And much like the original device, their KIN failed to impress everybody (although I will say that I recall several Facebook posts from friends praising the device, whether these folks were getting paid by Microsoft remains to be known). This news is awful for Microsoft--However, I don't think people realize how awful it actually is.

A December 2009 Morgan Stanley Internet Report indicates that most future computing will be done by mobile devices. Furthermore, the report posits that the business of technology and computing occurs in cycles (each cycle having winners and losers). In the 80's Microsoft, Cisco, and even Apple (plus a half dozen other companies) were big winners, capturing wealth, market share and thought leadership. In the 90's it was the winners of the internet boom (basically Google). As it stands now, Apple, Blackberry, Google, and the social-media sites du jour (Foursquare anyone?) are winning...Microsoft isn't even in the race.

They still have a massive operation, and even with this latest blunder they should be fine. Even so, Microsoft will need a pretty fantastic hail mary play to get them back in the mobile game. We live now in a tech culture that values innovation more than anything else, Microsoft (even under the guise of Bill Gates) has never been a great innovator. Looking ahead in a world where operating systems and word processors are being offered free or really cheaply (now by major competitors like Apple and Google), and content and hardware bringing in the real big bucks, Microsoft might be in a spot of trouble.