This week Microsoft announced that they were discontinuing their Kin product line. The Kin phones are their new social-oriented devices that were developed by their Danger subsidiary who also designed the Sidekick family for T-Mobile. (On a side note, the Sidekick was discontinued this week too. Coincidence?) The Kin was the first all new phone design out of Microsoft in recent years, and they are currently working on another new platform, Windows Mobile Phone 7 (WMP7).
The Kin makes an interesting case study; it was developed by a team with a proven track record of releasing successful Sidekick phones. One would have expected the successes to translate to the Kin, but unfortunately that is not the case. The phones suffered from an overly expensive pricing model and a number of questionable design decisions. You would think that Danger’s experienced phone designers would know better, and I worry that the same myopia could lead to a WMP7 failure.
The lack of success with the Kin introduces new concerns about WMP7. For those of you unfamiliar the WMP7 is Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone and is their next generation smartphone. It is designed around a touch interface and has the potential to compete with iOS and Android. Like the Kin, WMP7 is using a new approach and is optimized to simplify and improve the user experience. These similarities make me nervous and suggest that WMP7 could suffer the same fate as the Kin; however there is some good news.
In the smartphone market, Microsoft’s current Windows Mobile platform is a distant fourth in market share behind Blackberry, Apple and Android. This is not surprising. Microsoft has a track record of weak initial product releases (think Windows 3.x, Internet Explorer and early versions of Word/Excel) with dramatic improvements over time. Enhancements are also driven by competitive dynamics since each of those solutions faced serious competition (e.g Mac OS, Netscape and Word Perfect/Lotus, respectively.) Microsoft’s position in the smartphone market could be viewed similarly since its current platform is lagging and the iPhone is clearly a strong competitor. This logic would suggest that WMP7 will be successful.
I believe that competition drives innovation and that a successful WMP7 launch will be good for the consumer. However, my confidence in WMP7 has been negatively impact by the Kin failure. On the bright side, I am hoping that Microsoft’s “V3 Syndrome” will hold true and the WMP7 will be successful.