Originally published in Mediapost, July 2, 2010
Last week, Microsoft killed its first phone product, Kin. Ad Age called it "One of the fastest launch-to-failure paths ever taken by a major marketer." The New York Times quipped, "That didn't take long," pointing out that the phone was on the market for 48 days but in development for 2 years. Two weeks prior to the sacrifice, rumors kicked up that only 500 Kins were sold in the phone's first six weeks of life. One voice rang out from the masses: a parent whose 13-year-old daughter bought one and really liked it. Silicon Alley Insider's one-liner: "FOUND! Someone who has bought a Microsoft Kin!" Based on immediate media response, the phone will go down in Microsoft history as another colossal failure like Zune and Windows Vista. Microsoft can't keep up with the Joneses, the business world buzzed.
I decided to check out the train wreck for myself by visiting my local neighborhood Verizon store. The sales associate helpfully told me that the store has sold a total of two Kins, one of which was later returned, and that "it doesn't really do anything." But after playing around with it myself, I've concluded that the 13-year-old Kin fan may be smarter than the eager naysayers in the media.
Now, let me preface this with the point that the Kin was, without a doubt, a massive product failure. It didn't have a calendar that let users schedule events. It didn't have GPS or an app store. It may have been foiled by Verizon's data and voice plan costs. It might have been priced too high for its limited capabilities. Or it could be that the market is simply to saturated with Androids and iPhones to allow for a new entrant. The Kin, however, did point to the way people want to manage their social lives. It gave users the ability to pilot their digital network of friends in a seamless, unified way never before possible. It has some features that are likely to become standard ways for how people communicate:
It's clear Microsoft put a lot of effort into evolving social media. I'm not surprised that they based development in part off of insights from more than 50,000 twenty-somethings. The Kin minimized a problem created by social networks, a phenomenon I call social life sprawl: the need to update and read several feeds to stay connected with friends and family. Microsoft wasn't the first to tap into this need. FriendFeed has already begun to solve this problem, as have apps like TweetDeck. But the Kin took this solving social life sprawl to another level of functionality.
While the Kin failed, the ideas behind it will undoubtedly live another day. Microsoft did successfully key-in to the way consumers want to manage their social lives. And these qualities will show up in future products, whether launched by Microsoft, Google, Apple, or the next great startup.