microsoft’s kin two

in mobile device tech, the last two years have generally been the era of two companies – apple and google.  apple successfully took the “device” approach, focusing all of their efforts into the iphone line.  google focused more on a platform rather than a device, tuning their android system the run with an array of hardware behind it.  both companies produced and continue to produce solid products.  but they were not to be outdone by software giant microsoft, who had been talking some pretty big game about their windows phone 7.  you know, the one that lets you hook up to xbox live?  the one that provides office integration and lets you cleanly manage your social networks?  yeah, that one.  so we all held our breath as they released the brand new… kin?

… what?

ultimately the kin one and kin two were a pair of horrible failures.  i mean what can you do when no one wants the product?  what i can say is that they definitely were different than other available smartphones, but at the same time served as an illustration that different doesn’t always mean good.  a casualty of a botched project with the creators of what became t-mobile’s sidekick, the kin was finally relieved of the twisted misery that was its existence by microsoft last week.  kin has been the latest misstep in microsoft’s quest to become relevant in the mobile/smartphone market again, and combined with the lukewarm reviews of the windows mobile 6.5 OS that is currently running on windows-based smartphones, they have no choice but to pick it up.  windows phone 7 is supposed to be their answer, but after two years of development do they have what it takes to compete with the iphone and droid-based devices?

coming off the heels of the kin debacle, microsoft promised that all focus has been shifted to windows phone 7, and that it was going to be awesome.  based on what i first saw months ago on it, i thought that maybe it would live up to the hype.  but what about the timing?  within the last 2-3 months, apple’s iphone 4, motorola’s droid x, and htc’s incredible emerged as the most sought-after smartphone devices in history between at&t and verizon wireless.  windows phone 7 is slated to be available by the upcoming holiday season, after most of us have had one of the aforementioned devices for only 4-5 months.  and while i can’t speak for others, i generally will wait until i have an upgrade discount on my mobile account to buy a new phone – otherwise, most smartphones range from $500-$600 at full price.  and i don’t know how many people have that kind of spare scratch just laying around.

microsoft’s windows phone 7

to combat the timing issue (at least i think) microsoft recently conducted a “technical preview” of windows phone 7 for developers, and while it looks fairly slick overall, it looks like it still needs some work to compete with the heavy hitters.  tech bloggers that were fortunate enough to get hands on with it (you know, the ones that do this for a job, like engadget) have some video of the UI navigation.  it shows that that the touch response is super fast, and scrolling through the “tiles” on screen is effortless.  zoom, much like its competitors’ handsets, are controlled by easy pinch movement, and the virtual keyboard gets high marks for accuracy while typing.  the familiar zune music interface is pretty smooth too.

regardless, i still see some issues that will prevent microsoft from converting iphone/droid users to windows phone 7.  first, copy and paste isn’t supported.  on its own i guess it’s not that big of a deal, since this was already known information from the MIX10 conference in march, but when microsoft’s trying to highlight the business focus of the device, it seems like that would be an important function for the on-the-go business user.  it would definitely enhance their office mobile and exchange integration functionality.  second is a lack of multitasking for third party apps.  android introduced this first, with the iphone following suit, which puts windows phone 7 behind on that front.  third, and this is a big one for me, no navigation.  they do a good job of integrating bing and bing maps into the UI, but neither of those provide turn-by turn navigation or gps-style functions.  in an era where a lot of consumers are looking to have one strong multifaceted device, such as using their phone as a gps unit in their car, this might be a problem.

overall, for mainstream users or users that want email, web browsing, and high levels of social integration, the windows phone 7 looks like it would be a solid choice.  for the “super user,” however – the user who wants it all, are going to find it a little wanting vs the existing options from apple, motorola, and htc.  but there’s still time, and developers have some stuff in hand, so let’s see what they can throw together by the holiday release.

the thought of many is that if this mobile hail mary from microsoft doesn’t work then they should consider permanently getting out of the mobile game.  the problem is that they can’t.  the prevalent trend among tech users, both personal and business, is that an increasing amount of work (and play) is being done on mobile platforms, not seated behind a desk on a pc.  it’s the basic convergence of two forms of tech – pc’s got smaller and more portable while cell phones became more powerful.  soon the two became one.  and as one of the standards in computing, microsoft has no choice but to extend their brand into the mobile sphere, like apple and google have successfully done.  if the windows phone 7 doesn’t fly, they have no choice but to keep trying.

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About Tushar

Author and creator of Technical Fowl. IT/Tech hero. Jiu Jitsu purple belt. Enjoying the venn diagram intersection of tech, gaming, business, and politics.

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