Skip to main content

Microsoft Debuts New Social Phones

Following months of rumors and leaked images about "Project Pink," Microsoft has officially revealed the specifics of their project: a phone built from the ground up by Microsoft for the social generation.

Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president of the Entertainment and Device division announced the Kin One and Kin Two phones at a press conference today in San Francisco. The Kin phones are Microsoft's appeal to a specific demographic of phone users who want to stay connected to social media at all times.

"I guess the best way to tell this story is to go the customers," Bach said. "We spent thousands of hours with them to understand their needs before we wrote a single line of code."

What resulted was a specialized version of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's upcoming overhaul of their smartphone operating system. Kin skews the features of Windows Phone 7 specifically towards social media. Instead of a home screen with app icons and menus, the Kin home screen — called the "Kin Loop" — shows updates from all of a user's social networks, let's the user post updates instantly across multiple social media accounts and refreshes constantly.

"Windows Phone 7 is about simplifying life. This new social phone is about amplifying life," Bach said.

Share Instantaneously

The key feature of the Kin phones is making the sharing process instantaneous. Derek Snyder, product marketing manager for the Mobile Communications division showed the "Kin Spot," a small green dot at the bottom of the touchscreen that shows up at all times. Whenever a user finds something to share, be it in the Web browser, photos or another person's social site update, simply tapping and dragging that item to the Kin Spot brings up a list of contacts. The user then drags the contacts he wants to send to and the Kin instantly sends those updates to the relevant people.

Kin also helps solve the friend clutter problem for people who have hundreds or even thousands of contacts and "friends" from all their various accounts. Snyder explained the phenomenon with three categories: best friends he talks to daily, friends from high school and acquaintances he interacts with infrequently, and people he follows but doesn't interact with, such as celebrities on Twitter.

Kin automatically lists contacts by how often the user interacts with them, so people who the user is likely to share with come up at the top of the list when using the Kin Spot.

Kin also allows users to share things with people who don't have smartphones. Kin can send maps from Microsoft's Bing search engine as an image or screenshots of a site to people who don't have phones with Web browsers. The Kin phones will also come with Microsoft's Zune interface for finding, managing and playing music.

Kin Studio

One of the most interesting features of the new Kin phones, however, has to be the one that isn't even contained in the phone. Kin Studio is a special site dedicated to each Kin user that tracks and archives what the user does. Photos and video are instantly uploaded to the site and posted along a timeline that lets users find and view media they have taken with their phone.

Bach described Kin Studio as a sort of journal for users because it helps catalog what they have done. Another benefit of Kin Studio is that pictures and videos aren't trapped on the phone. Bach said a Microsoft study showed two thirds of people who take pictures or video with their phones don't know how to get it off. Kin does that wirelessly, and the Kin Studio automatically marks the location, or "geotags," media and archives it by date.

Emphasis on photos and videos

Microsoft also put a lot of emphasis into making the Kin phones, which will be manufactured by Sharp, capable of taking great pictures and video. The Kin One and Two have five and eight megapixel cameras, and the Kin Two can shoot high-definition video in 720p resolution.

"Video and picture capture quality is incredible... it's better than the Flip [pocket video camera]," said Verizon's John Harrobin.

Harrobin came on stage to announce that the Kin phones would be available exclusively through Verizon. He declined to give details on pricing or contract plans but did say the Kin phones would be available in May.