Would you have wanted to be the manager whose job it was to persuade Steve Ballmer to keep investing in Kin?
Thought not. The writing has been on the wall for this smart-ish phone for some time. The Microsoft CEO – who took direct personal responsibility for the company’s mobile business six weeks ago, on the early “retirement” of consumer products chief Robbie Bach – has now delivered the coup de grace (the story was broken today by Ina Fried at Cnet, and Microsoft confirmed to us that there will be no future versions of the device).
One message from this: Microsoft’s period of experimentation in consumer gadgets is coming to an end. Mr Ballmer is doubling down instead on the main battle ahead as he looks to buttress the Windows platform against Apple and Google.
The history of Kin reads like a case-study in how not to mount a corporate acquisition.
It is the result of Microsoft’s purchase, in early 2008, of Danger – a well-regarded device maker that had carved out a niche among a young generation with its Sidekick handset (Paris Hilton gave it unwitting publicity at the height of her notoriety.)
Nothing seemed to go right. Much of the Danger talent fled early on, and there were persistent rumblings of discontent about the management put in place by Microsoft. Microsoft wandered into a PR debacle last year when T-Mobile, the only company selling the Sidekick, warned users that their data had been lost in a datacentre outage – though it later turned out that much of it could be recovered.
Finally, in May, came the launch of Kin, the successor to Sidekick. The verdict: Microsoft had gone a long way to creating a stylish, ground-breaking device – but it had fallen short. Gizmodo labelled them “the best cellphones you’ll never buy”.
The Kin joins the Courier – Microsoft’s twin-screen eReader prototype – on the scrapheap. How much longer can Zune, another product of the Microsoft’s effort to crack the code of consumer gadgets, continue?
Mr Ballmer is folding the Kin development team into the Windows Phone 7 software My group. That makes sense. If Microsoft is to have any chance of recovering from the precipitous decline of its smartphone business, it can’t afford to fritter away its efforts on near-misses.
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