Recently, Microsoft unveiled a new mobile platform and two new devices built for it. It's called Kin and it's targeted at a younger demographic with a focus on social communication. It's also been one of the most controversial releases I've ever seen. Many folks who've weighed in on the topic weren't too impressed. They cite a lack of features ranging from a calendar to no support for third party applications, most notably games. I don't share those views (although I do think it's not a good idea for middle aged Microsoft executives to go with a shirt untucked and unshaven look while presenting) and I think Kin has a good chance of being successful in the marketplace. Here's why.
1. The market is real. One of the classic mistakes people make when evaluating technology is to apply their own biases toward it. When products were designed and targeted to a mass, horizontal market, it was less likely to happen. As the mobile market continues to grow, we'll see more and more specialized products designed for either vertical or mass markets, neither of which represent the traditional tech enthusiast. In this case Kin isn't targeted toward an enthusiast marketplace that's already using a smartphone and is seeking the next greatest thing. It's aiming to replace the feature phone audience that's using those phones by choice (or in some cases cost necessity).
Not everyone needs or wants the complexity of today's smartphone devices and platforms. That's a hard concept for us geeks to fathom but it's true. Kin is much more the heir to the feature phone than it is to the next generation smartphone. The truth is, it's neither feature phone nor smartphone, it's something in between.
2. Segmentation makes sense. Mobile tasks segment greatly by audience. Older demographics are far more likely to cite voice communication as their critical function, by a wide margin over every other mobile activity. By contrast, a younger demographic will likely be using fewer voice services and be much more focused on other forms of communication, such as text messaging and looking to tap into their social networks from an integrative perspective. I can understand why some folks think Kin isn't the phone for them. Frankly, it's not the phone for me (although there are aspects of it that I love). That doesn't mean, however, that it's not the phone for anyone.
Microsoft Kin One & Kin Two demo:
Neither, though, does it mean that Kin is a slam dunk. To be successful in the market, Kin needs two things going for it: effective pricing and marketing, two critical details that Microsoft did not discuss at last week's launch.
1. Marketing must be dead on. Kin's got a great story but even the greatest of stories needs to be told or it might as well not exist. Microsoft had a great story with Zune HD last fall; sadly, it neglected to tell it and that product nowhere near lived up to the potential that it had. Microsoft and Verizon need to tell a joint story that's clear, concise and takes the effort to reassure an image sensitive market that it's ok to use something that's perceived as different. Microsoft needs to show and demonstrate clearly how Kin differentiates from what potential buyers are using and take the time to teach and educate the market how critical features like Spot and Loop work. Without the proper marketing campaign, Microsoft will have an uphill battle.
2. Pricing needs to map with expectations. Pricing may be the most critical aspect of all. For Kin to work, Microsoft and Verizon will need pricing for both the devices and the service that can map favorably to current feature phone offerings, not comparable smartphone devices. Given that there's the potential for significant bandwidth use to flow content such as multi-megapixel images to the cloud and streaming music services, it’s a challenge to achieve low enough price points, especially when targeting a younger demographic with less disposable income that older users could afford.
Coupled with a proper marketing and pricing message, I think Kin can be a success for Microsoft and achieve their goal of creating an optimized experience aimed at a very targeted demographic. Kin shows we're past the phase of one size fits all for mobile technology, and it needs to be looked at and evaluated through that lens, not how well it maps to horizontal audiences.