These are the Kin One and Kin Two. The phones run a specialized version of the Windows Phone 7 Series operating system.
“Our strategy is a cohesive focus around Windows Phone,” explained Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment devices division. “Windows Phone 7 is about simplifying people’s lives, and this social phone is about amplifying people’s lives.”
Kenning the Kin
Both the Kin One and Kin Two have touchscreens with slide-out keypads. Kin Two has a larger screen and keypad, more memory and a higher-resolution camera. It also can record high-definition video.
The Kin One has a 5 MP camera and the Kin Two an 8 MP camera. Both are designed for use in low light, have image stabilization and feature a LumiLED flash that Bach said is eight times brighter than other smartphones’ flashes.
The home screen of the Kin phones is called the “Kin Loop.” This is always on and always up to date. “The Loop is more than a constant stream of calls — it’s a constant conversation,” said Derek Snyder, senior product manager for the Kin team.
“The first swipe of the home screen brings you to all your closest friends and favorite stuff,” Snyder said. “It also has your latest status messages from all your social networks.” Close friends get priority, and users see their updates more frequently on the Loop.
Microsoft uses cloud infrastructure to push down updates from all a Kin owner’s social networks and favorite Web sites. “We’ve woven all the ways you communicate with people into this device — from Windows Live, Facebook, MySpace,” Snyder said. “Social activities are part of the DNA of this phone.”
Users can pan around their apps and pinch and zoom into them.
Kin has a search app users can access by tapping a key on the keyboard. “Search is really important for us,” Snyder pointed out.
Microsoft is leveraging that search capability to differentiate the Kin from other smartphones with geolocation capabilities. “While other phones focus on maps and directions to a place, we make it easy to share,” Snyder said.
For example, when a group of friends decides to go to a concert, one of them can mash up the link to the Web site that has information for the concert with the concert’s location and send to the others.
Everything is documented in the Kin. The Kin Studio stores all a user’s photographs, videos, text messages and call history. All photos and videos are automatically geotagged and linked to a Microsoft Bing map.
All information stored in the Kin Studio can be shared with friends through the Kin Spot. Users drag videos, photos, text messages, Web pages, location and status updates into the Kin Spot, then send them out to anyone they want to.
The Kin Studio has a timeline feature that lets users search its content by day, week or month so they have a personalized digital journal, if you will.
Sharp built the Kin handsets, and Microsoft is partnering with Verizon and its parent company, Vodafone , as carriers.
The Kin is the first Windows phone to ship with Zune software. In addition to playing Zune videos on their screens, users have access to the Zune music service if they have a Zune Pass. “I can fire off a search, look for an album and start playing or streaming it,” Snyder said.
Users will also have access to Zune’s other features — FM radio and podcast playback.
“Not only is the video and picture capture quality remarkable — it’s better than the Motorola Flip — but the Kin also uploads pictures and videos to the Kin Studio without USB or a connection to the Internet,” Verizon Wireless executive John Harrobin said.
The Kins will be available in Verizon stores in May, Harrobin said. He did not disclose pricing.
Loving One’s Kin
“The device looks right on target to me,” Maribel Lopez, principal analyst and founder of Lopez Research. “The Zune aspect might not matter as much, but connecting and sharing looks great. The choice of Verizon was a strategic move.”
On the other hand, the Kin appears to be aimed at a young user set — teens, particularly — and it’s possible that perhaps the Kin’s too much phone for a kid. “A solid feature phone is fine, especially for a 12-year-old,” Lopez said.
“With the Kin, Microsoft has pulled an Apple and created something that is incredibly easy to use and doesn’t try to compete on the sheer number of features it has,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“This is a device for folks who want a phone to be a communications product, not a replacement for their PC,” he remarked. “It focuses like a laser on making communications easier but avoids application stores and many of the bells and whistles of a full smartphone, to make the device simple as an iPod.”