It was called Project Pink, a name so embedded in the team’s head that the Microsoft team that spoke to a small group of media gathered for a satellite launch event in New York City couldn’t avoid mentioning it. However, the accent color and default user interface are green. Forked off from the core Windows Phone 7 team, the Kin One and Kin Two explore a question that Microsoft claims it painstakingly researched: what do 15 to 25 year olds obsessed with social networks want from their handsets?
Their answer is a Windows Phone that doesn’t run apps, but instead has social networking integrated into its user interface and has solid imaging capabilities. The Kin One has a five megapixel camera whereas the less visually distinctive Kin Two has an eight megapixel camera and 720p video capture capabilities. With the exception of that HD video, the Kins will send nearly all of their information up to the cloud for review in an impressive, but potentially visually scale-challenged, Silverlight Web site called Kin Studio. Microsoft was not shy about coming up with catchy names for different parts of the Kin experience.
The Kin’s user interface is also like no other. Rather than the lines of text like many feature phones or a grid of icons like many smartphones, it takes Windows Phone’s “Metro” design of tiles and blows them out to large squares featuring items to share and people to share them with A small circle on the screen called “the spot” sends them off to be shared. Kin can also share via social networks, but still requires that you manually pick which of the three social networks supported by Kin – Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – receives the update. A classic 1.0 deficiency, sharing photos via Twitter is not supported, which leads me to think that Twitter is planning to launch its own photo sharing service.
Kin faces a number of challenges, but without yet knowing the price of the device, and how it will compete with capable, inexpensive smartphones such as the iPhone, Palm Pixi and Droid Eris, much will come down to how Verizon Wireless –– Microsoft’s exclusive launch partner in the U.S. – prices the service. I take it as a good sign that Verizon representatives did not say at launch that the standard data pricing plan would apply. On the other hand, Kin will be shooting a lot of data up into the cloud all the time, and is a much more mobile device than the iPad on which AT&T offered Apple special pricing.
The second, longer-term challenge will come from the quickly evolving nature of social networks. It is a challenge to keep up with rising stars in social networks and their related services. For example, the Kins support neither Foursqure nor Gowalla, Perhaps Microsoft is waiting to see which one rises to the popularity of Twitter. Or that might spell bad news for the company, as it currently offers its own Bing Maps to convey location information with the handsets.