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Microsoft Kills the Kin July 1, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Two months after its introduction, Microsoft pulled its Kin cell phone for the youth market.  Although I never tried the Kin, I liked the concept of a phone specifically designed as the first significant gadget for what will be the most wired and technologically savvy generation in history.  The Sidekick functionality from Microsoft’s Danger (called Kin Studio for this phone) acquisition got good reviews, but the lack of features and applications was odd, given that if any company knows the importance of applications, it’s Microsoft.

The analysts are being kind, noting that Microsoft wants to put all of its efforts into Windows Mobile 7 (also called Windows Phone, but the branding remains ambiguous), and that it may only have delivered the Kin in its present form in order to meet contractual obligations with carriers.  If that’s the case, it’s nothing but silly to spend money building and manufacturing a phone the company intended to kill.

I dislike piling on Microsoft.  There is still much to admire and appreciate in the world’s largest software company.  But if it can’t get a clear success in the device market, it is headed for the same cliff that IBM almost drove off in the early 1990s.

And regrettably, Steve Ballmer is no help.  It’s not clear if he truly believes that such products aren’t important to the long-term success of the company, or if he’s fighting a verbal rear-guard action in hopes that something in the pipeline will take off.  I think even the Microsoft board of directors must realize by now that his best role was an operating one, not a product leadership one.

It’s amazing if Ballmer and the rest of Microsoft’s leadership don’t see the parallels to the IBM of 20 years ago.  In 1990, IBM was by far the dominant mainframe computing vendor, and arguably still the first among equals in the PC market (Micro Channel notwithstanding).  But there were too many daunting challenges as computing shifted from Big Iron to a smaller and far more distributed model.  Lou Gerstner saved the company, but only by making it into something completely different, and shedding over 100,000 employees in the process.

We are fast reaching the day when Microsoft will require such surgery.  And that’s a shame.

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1. Microsoft Kills the Kin | World's Greatest T-Shirt - July 1, 2010

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