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Microsoft Aims New Kin Handsets at Twittering Teens

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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 (s msft) 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 (s mot), 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 (s aapl), 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 (s vz) retail stores next month; they’ll also be available on the Vodafone (s vod) network at a future date, which the company declined to name.

18 Responses to “Microsoft Aims New Kin Handsets at Twittering Teens”

  1. Alan Yeung

    These phones target a demographic that largely doesn’t exist.

    The pre-smartphone market is generally too young to use social networking sites. (MSN chat, granted, may be a market.) And almost everyone who’s strongly into social networking is at the age where they want a smartphone.

    These are nice looking phones, and they have some interesting ideas, but I don’t understand why no one at Microsoft had the courage to kill this project. Does Roz Ho have that much influence? Her group will never turn a profit on this.

  2. Is there a pre-smartphone market? Tyler had a iPhone as iPod Touch and my buddy has two teenage daughters who rotate between iPhones and Blackberrys. I didn’t catch the pricing and suppose that could make a difference. Hm.

    • Although Tyler had my old iPhone, he didn’t have phone service with it. He’s using a cheap feature phone, which he doesn’t like. ;) I could see him looking at a Kin phone because he doesn’t need apps, but he does like music and texting. He’s not on Facebook or Twitter yet, but that’s the likely next step.

  3. I saw the video for the Kin and it seemed well-targeted. It appears that the line is a move to hook consumers when they’re young, then later (as the post says) introduce them to full-fledged Windows Phone 7 devices. Sounds like a clever upgrade plan.

  4. “They’ll also be available on the Vodafone network at a future date, which the company declined to name” – actually, they’re saying the two Kin phones will be out on Voda in autumn.

    • Michael, there weren’t any comments at the Kin launch, but I have a follow up statement from T-Mobile to answer your question. Here it is in its entirety:

      “Since its launch in 2002, the T-Mobile Sidekick® has been one of our most popular and successful family of devices in T-Mobile history. This success is largely due to its loyal base of Sidekick fans for which we will continue to innovate and deliver an exceptional experience.

      For example, as Sidekick evolves, we are planning for moves toward new hardware and software platforms, which we expect will provide customers with a fresh, exciting user experience while maintaining the important features that contribute to a great messaging device.

      While we are working toward the next iteration of the experience, we will continue to support our legacy devices and provide great service for our loyal Sidekick customers. We encourage you to stay tuned for exciting updates in the months ahead.”