It seems that Verizon’s rabid pet wolf was able to sink its teeth into Microsoft’s ‘Kin’ phone not even two months after Arlis traded in his prized horny toad, $49.99 and a home-cooked meal for the privilege of owning one. This unfortunate turn of events prompted Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer to don his executioner’s mask and place a 12-gauge slug between the eyes of the hydrophobic phone series. When asked to comment on the sudden death sentence, we couldn’t quite make out his reply due to all the laughter and bad music coming from the Apple camp across the street, but it sounded something like, “developers, developers, developers, developers…”
When Microsoft released its Kin phones on May 13th, the buzz surrounding the two handsets was less “Want To Buy” and more “WTF?” Its big brother, Windows Phone 7, had already been officially unveiled at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress, whetting the appetites of reviewers and gadget-geeks alike for something far more substantial. Not wanting to the slow the momentum for his Windows Phone 7 platform, Captain Balmer put on his best moisture revealing blue shirt, skipped the anti-perspirant and shouted up a sweaty storm about Kin’s role as king of the dumb-phones. Somewhere along the lines however, Steve’s message faded and the Kin was widely seen as the dumbest smart-phone, not the smartest dumb-phone.
The reasons for this are many, but can be mainly attributed to money and software. Despite the low cost of entry ($49.99 and $99.99 for Kin models One and Two respectively) the added cost of a data plan that accompanied these phones (to take advantage of the social networking features) placed the total cost of ownership close enough to the regular smart-phone segment that it made little sense to purchase the half-baked devices when higher-functioning competitors could be had for a small premium.
In an interesting article over at Engadget it was revealed that the Kin was over 18 months late to market due to software development issues. Microsoft purchased Danger, maker of the popular Sidekick phone, as a means of entry into the lucrative mobile market, however early on in the Kin development cycle it was determined that they would not use Danger’s OS for the project. Instead of carrying on the Sidekick legacy, the development team was told to ditch the time-tested feature phone OS, and polish the Windows CE turd to a high gloss before Kin would be brought to market. To their credit, Kin is a drastic departure from the standard WinMo affair we are used to scoffing at, and these master polishers have since been given new buffing wheels and sent to work on Windows Phone 7.
Outside of Microsoft, the Kin’s untimely demise may have important ramifications for nVidia, who provided the Tegra chipset underpinning the whole shebang. Despite being 18 months late, Kin was the first, and only phone from a tier-one vendor, to be powered by a Tegra SoC. Already reeling from being dumped by Samsung and getting rejected by Nintendo for their upcoming 3DS handheld, the death of Kin certainly won’t add to Tegra’s reputation. In fact after over two years on the market, nVidia’s “consumer” sales category only accounts for a measly 3% of their overall sales revenue according to their latest reported quarter, and that category also includes console chips (PS3) as well as Tegra.
NVidia must now drink away its memories of Kin and redouble its efforts to land some Android/WP 7 design wins. They’ve got Tegra 2 out on the street corner showing some leg now, but thus far Qualcomm’s Snapdragon has been stealing away all the Johns in the latest wave of Android devices. The heat is on, and nVidia has but a short window of time left to hop aboard the tablet train as well before that fad makes like a baby and heads out.
Who knows, perhaps Microsoft will take pity on nVidia and reward them for steadfastly trashing Linux in public. This just might get them some Windows Phone 7 design wins later this year. Perhaps JHH, Balmer, and Jobs will accidentally conference call each other, creating a reality distortion wave so intense that space and time as we know it will cease to exist. Perhaps I’ve taken this a little too far just now. Either way, Kin, we hardly knew thee and surely somebody out there loved you… anybody?… oh well.
R.I.P. Microsoft Kin: May 13 – June 30, 2010 S|A