Faster Forward: Microsoft's next smartphone effort: Yes, we Kin?

By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; 2:01 PM

Yesterday, Microsoft announced its latest venture in the smartphone business.

No, not the Windows Phone 7 Series project it launched in February. The Redmond, Wash., software company's new Kin series of smartphones will arrive in Verizon Wireless stores in the next month, not the end of this year.

Its Kin gadgets build on Microsoft's 2008 acquisition of Danger Inc., the company behind T-Mobile's line of Sidekick phones.

Regular readers may recall the Sidekick's dishonorable appearance in this space as an example of "cloud computing" gone catastrophically wrong. Last year, a server meltdown left Sidekick users watching their schedules and contacts lists vanish before a quasi-heroic effort allowed a recovery of some of that data.

Understandably, Microsoft has ditched the Sidekick branding in introducing Kin. (It writes that word in all caps, a habit I'll decline until somebody convinces me "Kin" is an abbreviation for anything.) But the looks of its new hardware owe a fair amount to that prior venture. So does its announced manufacturing partner, Sharp, which also built Sidekick phones for T-Mobile.

Microsoft will ship two Kin models: Its Kin Two will include a slide-out keyboard below a landscape-mode screen, much like the Sidekick, while the Kin One will feature a pull-down keyboard that looks more like Palm's Pre smartphone. The former will feature an eight-megapixel camera, and the latter will ship with a 5-MP camera. Microsoft will bundle each with software compatible with its Zune media players' music and video store.

Microsoft is throwing in an extra set of social-media applications on each device. One program, the Kin Loop, echoes HTC's Sense interface and the Synergy feature of Palm's webOS by presenting updates that friends have posted to such social sites as Facebook and Twitter on the phone's home screen. A second, the Kin Spot, aims to simplify sharing bits of information with pals by letting you drag pictures, video clips, Web pages, text messages and other snippets to one icon on the screen.

Verizon hasn't revealed prices, service costs or an exact ship date yet.

From first-hand writeups such as this one from Ars Technica and another from Wired, the Kin seems like it could be a decent, entry-level smartphone. But it apparently shares very little code with the project Microsoft has already suggested is its top priority, Win Phone 7 -- and which won't run programs written for other Microsoft mobile platforms.

Microsoft will try to pitch the Kin as a simpler, cheaper, alternative to other smartphones. But recent history suggests that sort of subtlety can get lost on customers fixated on better-known options that can run more applications.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company