SAN JOSE, Calif. Microsoft debuted Kin, its long-rumored smartphone Monday (April 12), a handset focused on social networking using Microsoft's Zune media player interface and cloud computing services. The new handset comes amid speculation Google is preparing an Android-based tablet to compete with the Apple iPad.
The new handset is clearly an attempt by Microsoft to spark buzz among young consumers at a time when the market share for Windows Mobile phones is on the decline. However, the Kin is not a direct assault on the Apple iPhone, a move Microsoft expects to launch with Windows Mobile 7 coming in OEM handsets this fall.
At a San Francisco event, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, said the Kin was aimed at 15-to-30 year-old users. "We built Kin for people who live to be connected, share, express and relate to their friends and family," said Bach in a prepared statement.
The Kin is not based on Windows Mobile 7. Microsoft demonstrated handsets using that software in February and its Zune media player interface but said they will not be announced until the fall. Those fall handsets, rather than the Kin, will be more direct competitors to the iPhone, Bach said.
The Kin will be exclusively available from Verizon Wireless in the U.S. beginning in May and from Vodafone in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom in the fall. Sharp Corp. is the exclusive manufacturer for the Kin handsets which come in two versions, both with touch screens and slide out keyboards.
A low-end version simply called One has a 4:3 aspect ratio display, five Mpixel camera, 4 Gbytes memory and mono audio. The version called Two has a widescreen display, eight Mpixel camera, 8 Gbytes memory and stereo audio. Both cameras have an LED flash and image stabilization. Other hardware details were not immediately available.
| The Kin One sports a 4:3 aspect ratio display and a look similar to the Danger Sidekick.|
The Kin sports a home page that automatically brings together feeds from Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. A separate feature lets users gather text and media on a page then publish it to a social networking site.
Observers were quick to compare the Kin to the Sidekick designed by Danger, a Silicon Valley startup acquired by Microsoft.
Microsoft did not announce an applications store for the device. But it did suggest it will make services such as data and media backups available for Kin, possibly through its Azure cloud service.
"Having all of a user's contacts and pertinent social data stored in a Microsoft vault creates the potential for a very sticky service," said mobile device analyst Michael Morgan of ABI Research.
Microsoft's handset comes as Bloomberg reported Palm has hired financial advisors to seek a buyer with interested parties including Lenovo and Taiwan's HTC. The company launched its Pre handsets to much fanfare at the Consumer Electronics Show more than a year ago, pioneering features similar to those of the Kin but sales have not lived up to expectations.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports Google plans to release a tablet device using its Android software that could compete with the Apple iPad. It is one of many competitors including a device from Hewlett-Packard
In addition, a variety of netbooks are expected to emerge this summer around Taiwan's Computex trade show using Google's Chrome OS environment.