Microsoft Kin—The Billion Dollar Smartphone Disaster

Let’s take a closer look at Microsoft’s failed attempt at building a “hip” new phone line for teens.

Varun Cheedalla
Nov 27, 2020 · 6 min read
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Microsoft Kin, a billion-dollar flop (Picture Credit: Alphr)

Do you remember 2010? Back when the iPhone 4 was considered revolutionary with its crisp Retina Display, and Microsoft released the Kinect, transforming the gaming experience. However, 2010 wasn’t full of successes, and the most prominent tech failure is definitely Microsoft Kin. With the rise of social media platforms like Myspace and Facebook, Microsoft saw the chance to target this new demographic of digital natives.

The tech giant invested two years and $1 billion on a project for Windows CE-based phones — Kin ONE and Kin TWO. Microsoft hyped up these phones a lot, thinking that they were the next big thing. However, a combination of reasons led to this phone becoming (well, almost) a total flop and being discontinued.

Why did such a concept become an example of what not to do in a smartphone? What could Microsoft have done differently? Let’s take a look.

Why Microsoft Kin Was A Disaster

(and to be honest, a big waste of a billion dollars)

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Microsoft Kin had a keyboard, which was outdated in 2010. (Picture Credit: Anand Tech)

Okay, you might be thinking, “Well, Windows OS isn’t even that bad. What’s wrong with the OS?” While that might be true, Kin didn’t really use Windows.

It came with something called Kin OS, which was a hybrid of Windows and some completely new software, a “fork in the road” as Microsoft called it. Mobile phone users and reviewers were really confused when Kin features weren’t included in the Windows phones that came later on. Microsoft probably then realized that their brand having two different mobile operating systems would be a problem.

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Products in Office 365 (Picture Credit: Digit)

Kin was meant to be a phone specifically for the social media and internet natives out there, so the phones had a browser to access these networking sites, along with widgets. However, a big reason why people got phones was to use other apps along with these: games, productivity, planning, and more. Microsoft took away the ability to download these apps on the phone, turning Kin from an interesting yet quirky piece of tech to a pointless feature phone.

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Kin ONE and TWO (Picture Credit: Wired)

I think the subtitle speaks for itself. The release prices for the Kin ONE and TWO were $50 and $100, respectively.

Although that sounds cheap, it really isn’t in the long run. Since the Kin phones required a data plan, the long term price of the phone shot up. You might be thinking, “Data plans aren’t THAT expensive. How much would the price have to be to make the price so high?” Nowadays, you can get a decent data plan for only $15 a month, but 2010 was a different story. We saw the rise of 4G, a new generation of mobile data that allowed us to stream high-quality videos on a mobile device. However, this experience came at a price.

When a customer got a Kin phone, they received it with a two-year contract with Verizon, whose data and voice charges cost up to $70 a month. This means that having a Kin ONE for twelve months would cost a whopping $890! A 16GB iPhone 4 cost $199, and while that’s more expensive than the Kin ONE, it did not require a data plan, decreasing the long-term price significantly. Also, it had some decent functionality, unlike the Kin phones.

As much as it’s true that an $890 phone is somewhat normal nowadays, I don’t think it’s worth it to spend that much on a phone with no apps.

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The phone might be sub-par, but the packaging is nothing to scoff at. (Picture Credit: Anand Tech)

After realizing the prices for the Kin One and Two were too high, Verizon slashed the prices to $30 and $50 respectively. However, since the phone was targeting teenagers, the prices were still not low enough, since the data plan that was required with it would be ridiculously expensive. Neither Verizon nor Microsoft released the number of Kin phones sold.

Rumors from Business Insider said that only 500 were sold, while an estimation from CNET said “south of 10,000.” Compare that to how many iPhone 4’s Apple sold in just three days after its launch — over 1.7 million. That disparity shows that Microsoft could have done much better.

Thoughts

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There are many different types of smartphones (Picture Credit: Review Media)

In my opinion, the final blow for the already doomed Microsoft Kin was the lack of a “cool factor.”

With the rise of phones with no keyboards and screens, the Kin phones with keyboards and tiny screens lacked the modern aspect of smartphones many people, especially the target demographic, teens, wanted. Focusing on the social media aspect just wasn’t enough.

However, this wasn’t the tip of the iceberg. Microsoft’s dark history of selling below-par phones has caught up to them. In January of 2020, their line of Windows phones was discontinued. If their phones had been successful, there would have been massive potential to integrate AI seamlessly into smartphone technology, as they have been doing with their other products like Office and Windows OS. However, the popular choices of Apple and Android dominated the market, leaving Windows with very little wiggle room in the market share, with Windows’ smartphone market share value staying at below 1 percent for the past few years.

What Could Have Microsoft Done To Prevent This?

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Microsoft building (Picture Credit: TechCity)

It was all a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not a great strategy to release a flip-phone like device with not many interesting features when the iPhone is blowing people’s minds all over the globe. There might have been a Kin-dled interest (pun intended) for the phone if it was released just two years earlier, when social media started gaining popularity rapidly and the concept of connecting with others via the internet was new.

With this social media-oriented phone, Microsoft would have had many advantages over the phones of 2007–08, when phones with vibrant screens that looked like Kin were popular. People might have been more willing to buy a phone then. Regardless, a successful Kin phone could have given Microsoft the boost they needed to succeed in the industry of smartphones.

In summary, Microsoft Kin phones were a failure resulting from a mixture of high prices, bad timing, and questionable software. As bad as it was, learning from failure is important in the tech world. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point as humans if we never kept track of our mistakes. Also, remember that innovation never stops, and I look forward to seeing what Microsoft has in store for the future.

You read. We talk. Simple.

Varun Cheedalla

Written by

A founding editor at TechTalkers. Science, tech, and the humanities are passions of mine, and I want to educate people about our constantly changing world.

TechTalkers

Posting articles about the most interesting science and tech innovations. Follow to keep up with the constantly changing worlds of science and technology.

Varun Cheedalla

Written by

A founding editor at TechTalkers. Science, tech, and the humanities are passions of mine, and I want to educate people about our constantly changing world.

TechTalkers

Posting articles about the most interesting science and tech innovations. Follow to keep up with the constantly changing worlds of science and technology.

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