Microsoft Targets Mobile Youth With 'Kin' Devices

Microsoft wants younger mobile device users to conduct their social networking chatter and content creation on devices that bear its branding, and it's using the cloud to tie it all together.

On Monday, Microsoft took the wraps off Kin One and Kin Two, mobile devices that each feature a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, digital still and video cameras, loads of storage, and a Zune-powered media player, all tied together in a touch screen interface that's optimized for the "guess what I'm doing now" set.

Kin devices are believed to represent the fruits of Microsoft's $500 million acquisition of Danger and Microsoft's oft-delayed "Pink" mobile development project. Kin devices may also use the customized software and services stack that Pink was reportedly developing, but Microsoft isn't confirming this.

The underlying OS -- which Microsoft is calling Windows Phone OS for Kin -- shares "some common foundational element OS components, software and services" with Windows Phone 7, which is due to arrive on devices later this year, a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail.

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Social networking is baked into the Kin user interface in three main areas. Kin Loop features social networking updates from friends and family; Kin Spot lets users share photos, Web pages and other content by dragging and dropping onto a designated circle; and Kin Studio is where all user content that's generated is stored, not on the device, but in the cloud.

Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research, says using cloud storage will allow Microsoft to offer a solid mobile user experience.

"What's really powerful about this is that it's all done in the cloud, managing all the connections and bringing all the data together. If this was happening on the device it would quickly drain the phone's battery," he said.

Next: Microsoft Targets Young, Mobile Device Users

Both Kin devices are designed by Sharp and reflect years of exhaustive Microsoft research into the hearts and minds -- not to mention usage behavior -- of younger mobile device users. On its official Kin Web site, Microsoft says it's ready to deliver the kind of mobile experience that will fit seamlessly into the always-connected life that younger folks lead these days.

"Your phone is your life, right? Well, this one has you, your friends, your conversations, your drama, everything -- all rolled into one awesome little package," according to the official Microsoft Kin Web site. "We saw how you talk, text, tweet and post in real life. Then we designed Kin to communicate as naturally as you."

Dulaney says users in the younger demographic Microsoft is targeting tend to rely more heavily on their mobile devices than users in other age groups. "These are people that may not be able to add two numbers together without a smartphone. They have grown up with these devices and have had them all their lives," he said.

One thing Kin devices won't have is the ability to run third party mobile apps from Windows Phone Marketplace. Microsoft says this is due to the deep integration of Kin's core social networking apps.

Kin One features a 5 megapixel camera with SD video, 4 gigabytes of storage, a mono speaker and a compact keyboard designed for one-handed typing. Kin Two, similar in design to the T-Mobile Sidekick, comes with an 8 megapixel camera with HD video, 8 gigabytes of storage, stereo speakers and a larger keyboard. Microsoft hasn't yet revealed pricing for the devices.

Verizon Wireless, Microsoft's exclusive Kin partner in the U.S., will begin selling devices next month, and Vodaphone will start selling devices in Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. this fall.