Microsoft Aims New Kin Handsets at Twittering Teens

Microsoft today launched its Kin line of handsets — web-enabled touchscreen phones built around social networking features, messaging, video sharing and the company’s Zune music offering — with two initial models. The new line is aimed squarely at the pre-smartphone demographic — a group that few competitors are targeting.

The Kin One and Kin Two contain three software and service features not found on any other Microsoft handsets: Kin Loop, Kin Spot and Kin Studio. Similar to Motorola’s Motoblur, Loop provides a central place to follow contacts on Facebook, My Space, Twitter and Windows Live with constant refreshes. A nice touch is how it allows users to prioritize friends, so that updates from people you’re most interested in take priority over passing acquaintances on the web. Sharing web pages, pictures or locations involves a simple drag and drop of data to the Spot. The Studio, meanwhile, provides web-based timeline-styled backup of all data created on the phones, such as still pictures, videos and messages. It can be used to view any of this data, even if it’s not locally stored, which helps offset the limited local storage capacity on both handsets.

Although the new Kin services are front and center, Microsoft’s use of the Zune ecosystem is clever in several ways. First, it could bring in revenue via teens’ accessing of unlimited music tracks for $15 a month Zune Pass subscription. And it provides a shot across the bow of Apple, which doesn’t yet offer a music subscription service — an opportunity that, as I noted in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required)  about streaming tunes from the cloud, the company was missing out on.

The Kin is clearly a direct descendant from the Sidekick line that Microsoft gained when it purchased Danger two years ago — the Kin offers similar features and targets the same crowd. And that narrow focus on a largely untapped audience is undoubtedly what convinced to finally start selling its own branded line of phones — something it previously said it wouldn’t do.

So the social teenager who’s ready to move up from a feature phone but doesn’t want or need an expensive smartphone and corresponding app store will be well-served by the Kin line. After that, Microsoft will be more than happy to introduce them to full-fledged Windows Phone 7 devices.

The two Kin phones debut exclusively in Verizon Wireless retail stores next month; they’ll also be available on the Vodafone network at a future date, which the company declined to name.

 
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