Switched On: Kin's seven deadly sins

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

There may have been a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations at Microsoft and Verizon that resulted in the discontinuation of the Kin One and the Kin Two, but there were also many marketplace miscues that resulted in the demise of the handsets. Here, then, were Kin's seven deadly sins:

Lust. With the Kin handsets, Microsoft was too eager to get its hands into the pockets of young social networkers for whom the smartphone market had proven elusive. The key paradox of this was that the Kin data plan was the same for that of other smartphones at Verizon, and that continued to shut out those who aspired to mobile digital sharing nirvana.

Gluttony. If Microsoft was angling to get Verizon to offer a sweetheart deal for Kin data, it certainly didn't help its cause with the automatic backup of rich media to the Kin Studio website. If there was one aspect to the Kin handsets operation that may pave the way toward future success, it was the Silverlight-based web interface to all the media that was captured with the device. This also allowed Microsoft and Sharp to minimize the amount of on-device storage. However, constantly backing up high-resolution photos and even standard-definition videos to the cloud required a lot of bandwidth, making it difficult for Verizon to justify a "light" data usage plan for Kin users.

Greed: Cutting back on on-board storage was just one of the ways Microsoft and Sharp cut corners with the otherwise respectably-designed Kin hardware. The Kin One in particular had a small 2.5-inch screen that required a fair amount of scrolling even for Kin's native user interface. Browsing websites on the device required endless scrolling. Greed was also evident in Microsoft entering the hardware market itself while trying to push Windows Phone 7 to licensees. And if there's a short-term silver lining to the Kin story (apart from Kin Studio), it's that Microsoft will no longer be in competition with its hardware partners.

Sloth. The giants of the social networking space include Facebook and Twitter, for which Kin offered at least fair support. But rather than support Flickr for images and (Google-owned) YouTube for video, Microsoft plugged in its Windows Live services for these media. Kin also lacked established functionality such as a calendar and instant messaging as well as support for fast-growing services embraced by social networkers such as Foursquare.

Wrath. It's certainly no secret that the Windows Phone 7 reboot has been driven in large part by Windows Mobile falling far behind the licensing revenue-killing success of Android from Microsoft's foremost rival Google. Windows Phone 7, though, still isn't here, and so Kin represented a fork from the main group that came to market without all the support of an app marketplace. Kin could not compete with more capable smartphones available at Verizon (and elsewhere) that offered nearly all of its functionality to its target market, plus a much broader range of features.

Envy. The heart of both Microsoft's and Google's mobile operating system strategy is to have diverse handsets running its software. Still, both companies look at the level of integration Apple can achieve with the iPhone and are drawn to have a heavier hand in the design of handsets. This sort of licensor regret is part of what drove Google to create the Nexus One and likely also contributed to Microsoft's decision to create the Kin handsets.

Pride. Perhaps the most ominous sign of Kin's failure was that its user interface was in some ways a more tricked-out version of the one for Windows Phone 7's top-layer tiles. Microsoft gussied up the terms used to describe the user interface with lingo like "the Loop" and "the Spot," the latter referring to a tiny green target for dragging interface items. Microsoft confidently cited extensive research with young social networkers as evidence that the generalist approach of smartphones wasn't as good a solution for managing the three kinds of "friends" by Generation Upload. Ultimately, though, Kin made far too few friends of any kind at the cash register.

Ross Rubin is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.