'Kin 'ell: Microsoft forced to pull its 'iPhone killer'

Microsoft has scrapped plans to launch a 'social networking phone' - another embarrassing flop.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

You’d have thought that after several such failures, Microsoft might have learned that hardware wasn’t its thing. Apparently not, though: the software giant has been forced to pull the plug on its latest mobile phone, the Kin, after sales in the US were disappointing, to be polite.

Critics have responded with a resounding ‘I told you so’ – and Microsoft has sheepishly said it’s now going to concentrate on the development of its latest mobile operating system, Windows 7 Mobile. Competitors, though, are beginning to circle: could this latest failure sound the death knell for Microsoft’s foray into mobile?

When it was launched with great aplomb in April, the Kin (which, if you’ve ever seen cult sitcom Nathan Barley, feels strangely familiar) was slated as a serious challenger to the iPhone, claiming to offer an ‘all-in-one social networking experience’. Rumoured to have sold just 500 handsets, though, Microsoft says it decided to scrap the phone’s UK launch and discontinue it in the US.
Critics say the Kin failed because Microsoft hadn’t realised what it was competing with – the sheer diversity of Apple’s App Store. Shelly Palmer, the founder of Advanced Media Ventures, had it spot on when she told The Independent: ‘It was iTunes that made the iPod. It was the app store that made the iPhone’. In other words, get mobile developers excited, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Things aren’t looking great for the new mobile operating system either. After the head of Microsoft’s entertainment division (which developed the Kin), Robbie Bach, was forced out earlier this year, the competition hotted up. Microsoft’s current mobile operating system, Windows Mobile, powers just 14.2m phones, which leaves it trailing in fourth place behind iPhone, Google’s Android and Nokia’s Symbian. And in an interview with the Guardian last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt called for mobile phone developers to abandon Windows and focus on developing for Android. It was telling that when asked who his biggest competitors were, he didn’t even bother mentioning Microsoft.

With this latest failure in consumer hardware (Microsoft’s Zune player, designed to challenge the iPod, struggled to gain any significant market share after its launch in 2006), perhaps it’s time for Microsoft to have a rethink, and remember that it’s software that made it the company it is today.

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