Microsoft unveils KIN: Will users like this all-cloud, no-apps approach?

Microsoft has unveiled KIN ONE and KIN TWO, devices that take advantage of social networking integration yet lack third-party apps. Do you think KIN will deliver well enough for users to overlook the lack of apps?

A month or so since Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 (which will replace its Windows Mobile platform), the company has unveiled  KIN (previously codenamed Pink). The OS, which is based on Windows Phone 7, is a completely new experience. Robbie Bach, the President of Entertainment and Devices at Microsoft, said that the devices represent "the true kinship between people and technology."

The software

At first glance, the UI on KIN handsets looks sort of like the early demos of Windows Phone 7, but it is definitely something different when you take a closer look. The main reasons are what Microsoft calls Loop and Spot.

The home screen in the KIN interface, which is referred to as Loop, is an aggregation of all of your social media updates from across your favorite social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Each update is represented by a big photo block (it's a bit similar to the tiles in the Windows Phone 7 interface), showing your friend's photo and their latest status update. And, instead of just being the latest updates in chronological order, Loop promises to prioritize these updates by the people you interact with most.

Spot is an omni-present green dot at the bottom of the KIN screen. Spot makes it easy to share information from just about anywhere in the interface. For example, if you see a photo you would like to share with your friends, just drag it over Spot. From there, you can select which friends to share the photo with by using the same technique -- simply drag your friend's photo from your contacts list over Spot.

Another big difference from Windows Phone 7 and the other major smartphone platforms is that KIN doesn't support third-party apps. Microsoft chose to skip the hottest trend in mobile in favor of providing seamless integration of your social content. It's a risky move in a world where iPhone app commercials have become commonplace.

By choosing to go app-free, the KIN depends entirely on the cloud to retrieve all of your social updates and store all of your social content -- that means your Loop content is always up-to-date. It also means that onboard storage isn't really an issue since the KIN will pump your photos and other content directly into the cloud as well.

The one area where KIN and Windows Phone 7 are similar is in how they handle media playback. The KIN, like Windows Phone 7, uses a UI based on the Zune HD.

You can see the KIN software in action in this ZDNet video.

The hardware

It is clear that Microsoft spent a lot of time creating a unique software experience to the KIN. I guess they figured they didn't have to worry as much about the name of the hardware.

The device formerly known by the codename Turtle is now KIN ONE. Looking at its small, round case, it is easy to see where the codename came from. Here are the specs:

  • QVGA display
  • QWERTY slider keyboard
  • 4 GB of internal storage
  • 5 megapixel camera with flash
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth

The device formerly know by the codename Pure is now KIN TWO. It has a much more traditional form factor than the rounded KIN ONE. Here are the specs:

  • HVGA display
  • QWERTY slider keyboard
  • 8 megapixel camera with flash
  • 8 GB of internal storage
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth

The bottom line

While you won't be seeing KIN devices showing up in the enterprise, I think Microsoft's all-cloud, no-app approach is interesting. Microsoft has created a device that lacks the hottest trend in the industry (third-party apps) while still taking advantage of the integration of social networking. The question is whether KIN will deliver well enough for users to overlook that lack of apps.

Additional resources about KIN

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