Microsoft Has Two New Kin
There had long been rumors that Microsoft would release a phone around its Zune digital music platform. Redmond CEO Steve Ballmer said in late February this year that this was not the case. (See No Smartphone for Microsoft.)
"It is not our strategy to build our own phone," Ballmer said. "It's our strategy to build software that can stretch across many devices."
Technically, this statement is still true, since the Microsoft phones will be built by Sharp Electronics Corp. , much in the same way that High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) builds the Google-branded Nexus one. Microsoft, however, has never tried to sell a mobile device with its own logo front and center. Previously, it has always worked with partners like Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) and HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), so the move does represent a shift in strategy.
The Kin One and Two will be released in the US by Verizon Wireless in May. Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) will carry the phones this fall in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Microsoft is describing the devices as "the next generation of social phone." They will link Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Microsoft apps; allow people to share photos and videos; broadcast status updates to selected people; and offer access to the contents of the phone online. As expected, the phones will also incorporate Microsoft's Zune music application, which is Redmond's rival to Apple's iTunes. (See Gadget Watch: Awaiting the Apple Tablet.) The software giant isn't releasing many technical details for the phones yet. It has said that both phones will feature a touchscreen and slide-out keyboard, while the Kin One is a smaller version with a 5-megapixel camera. The larger Kin Two has more memory and an 8-megapixel camera. Neither Verizon nor Vodafone has said how it will price the devices yet.
Microsoft's shift into branded hardware comes as it is trying to revamp its presence in the mobile space. Redmond unveiled a major overhaul of its mobile operating system this February at Mobile World Congress with Windows Series 7. (See MWC 2010: Microsoft Bites Back.)
Microsoft has needed to do something to reinvigorate its mobile strategy against the onslaught of BlackBerry, the iPhone, and Android-based handsets for a while. Google's Android, in particular, has been stealing market share from Microsoft, with traditional Windows supporters like HTC and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) heavily pushing new Android handsets. (See CTIA 2010: Enter the Handsets.)
Market analysis firm comScore Inc. said recently that BlackBerry remained top of the US smartphone heap with a 43 percent share in the first quarter, followed by Apple with a 25.1 percent share. Microsoft is next with 15.7 percent, but comScore says that was a drop of 4 percent, while Android-based phones, fourth in the running, climbed 4 percent to extend its share of the market to 7.1 percent. (See Gadget Watch: Android's Growth Spurt.) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile