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Microsoft's Pink smartphone project was supposed to give Microsoft much-needed cachet in the mobile market and provide some semblance of a challenge to the iPhone. Instead, Pink is starting to look like a disaster that could further damage Microsoft's already shaky standing in the mobile space.
Pink's struggles, and the Sidekick outage that hit T-Mobile users last week, are the latest examples of disarray in Microsoft's mobile strategy. They also cast into doubt Microsoft's ability to execute on its "three screens and the cloud" vision for tying together PCs, televisions and mobile devices.
According to a source who claims detailed knowledge of Pink, and who back in May provided Channelweb.com with details that have since been reported by other publications (here and here), Pink was doomed from the start by poor decision-making and a management team with next to no mobile experience.
Pink is being developed by Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences (PMX) team, a group within the Mobile Communications Business (MCB) of the Entertainment and Devices Division. The group is led by Roz Ho, corporate vice president and an 18-year Microsoft veteran, who was previously general manager for Microsoft's Office For Mac group. Chris Pirich, head of engineering for Pink, came from the Xbox group, and Matt Bencke, business general manager for Pink, came to Microsoft from Boeing with virtually no software development experience.
Microsoft in February 2008 bought Danger, developer of the software and services stack for the Sidekick, for $500 million. The deal was aimed at infusing Pink with mobile industry talent and experience, and Microsoft's goal was to offer a user experience far superior to that of the Sidekick. But in its efforts to make Pink stand out, Microsoft allowed the scope of Pink to grow too large, and that led to the problems Pink faces today, the source told Channelweb.com.
Pink brings together technology from several different Microsoft product groups, but PMX failed to get these groups to commit to delivering their parts of the project on time, according to the source. "Pink has a lot of dependencies -- the marketplace is Zune, and for games it uses XNA. Every little piece uses another division's technology," said the source. "PMX had lofty ideas and goals, but they totally failed to execute these with Pink."
As a result of these difficulties, Microsoft had to shelve plans to include the marketplace and games, and those represent two major holes in Pink that will further erode its chances for success, the source said.
What's more, Pink was originally based on Windows Mobile 7, but repeated Windows Mobile 7 delays caused PMX to switch to Windows CE, which takes longer to implement, the source said.
After acquiring Danger, Microsoft's plan was to run both the Pink and Sidekick businesses and then gradually phase out the latter. But when Pink ran into problems, PMX shifted resources away from the Sidekick and into Pink.
"They killed the Sidekick to save Pink, but now Pink is dying as well," said the source.
Microsoft couldn't be reached for comment on whether it plans to develop future Sidekick models. A spokesperson for T-Mobile, which sells the Sidekick in the U.S., said the company doesn't comment on rumors or speculation.
In any event, the prospect of Microsoft abandoning the Sidekick probably won't come as a surprise to Sidekick users who've spent the past week dealing with a service outage, and who learned over the weekend that the personal information stored on their devices has most likely been lost due to a server failure at Microsoft.