Product Managers Want To Know: What Happened To The Microsoft Kin Phones?

by drjim on February 14, 2011

Microsoft Kin , We Hardly Knew You…

Microsoft Kin , We Hardly Knew You…

Gone in 48 days. Ouch – that’s got to be some sort of record. As product managers we try to do all of the right things when we’re handed the responsibility of birthing a new product: determine what our customer’s needs are, understand the competition, calculate costs and price points, and create clever tag lines and flashy graphics to capture our customer’s imagination. Microsoft’s product managers did all of this (and more), and yet the Kin One and Kin Two mobile phones from Microsoft got yanked off the market after a life of only 48 days. What happened here?

What The Kin Was Supposed To Be

Microsoft, the corporation, realizes that the mobile ecosystem is a very valuable place to be. They’d like to create products that would be used by mobile users. The Kin was supposed to be their entry into this environment and they were going to get there by winning over the kids with the very hip Kin phones.

According to the New York Times, Microsoft spent two years to develop the Kin phones and spent a lot on the marketing to promote them. The Kin phones were manufactured by Sharp for Microsoft, and available exclusively on Verizon Wireless.

The Microsoft product managers had decided that they wanted to target those mobile phone users who are also addicted to Web based social media sites. You know, sites like Twitter and Facebook. This market includes teens and so in order to have a chance, the Kin phones needed to be seen as being “cool”.

Clearly, something bad happened. Microsoft is not known for walking away from struggling products. Remember that everyone says that it takes three tries for Microsoft to get something right. However, this time they threw in the towel after only 48 days. Clearly this product was doomed from the beginning. What went wrong?

Why The Kin Failed

Every product manager knows that a product consists of many, many moving parts. For a product to be successful, these parts have to all line up. However, for a product to be as much of a failure as quickly as the Kin was, there has to be a whole bunch of things that go wrong.

Priya Ganapati over at Wired has taken a close look at the Kin event, and believes that we can understand what went wrong if we dig deep enough:

 

  • The Operating System Matters: in a perfect world, what operating system a mobile phone uses wouldn’t matter. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and so it does matter. The Kin used a bastardized version of the new mobile Windows OS. This meant that nobody knew what to make of it and so they reacted by not buying it.

 

 

  • How Much Does That Cost?: when you are targeting kids, you need to keep in mind that they don’t all have tons of disposable cash. The data plan that you needed to have in order to use the Kin cost $70/month. Ouch! It turns out that was too much for the market to bear.

 

 

  • Yes, We Have No Bananas: Microsoft decided to not allow the Kin to make use of either apps or games. The social networking services that the phone came with were all that you were going to be getting. Anyone who has an iPhone or a friend who has one knows that these days mobile phones are all about the apps. No apps meant no sales for the Kin.

 

 

  • Your Dad’s Cell Phone: if you are trying to capture the hearts and minds of kids, then your product had better be “buzz worthy”. The Kin was not – other phones that kids could buy, like the Motorola Cliq or a HTC Hero, were way cooler.

 

What All Of This Means For You

Microsoft’s product managers simply didn’t do their homework when it came to the Kin. The idea of creating a phone to go after the admittedly huge youth and social networking segment of mobile phone users was a good idea, Microsoft’s execution was not.

They didn’t go wrong in any one area. Instead, they dropped the ball in several different areas including creating a confusing product, making it too expensive, not permitting it to use apps, and missing out on the “cool factor”.

Just because the Kin didn’t work doesn’t mean that Microsoft can’t succeed in this market segment. However, the Microsoft product managers need to do a better job of doing their homework and listening to what their customers really want next time around.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Microsoft should try to create another mobile phone or give up and let Apple have the mobile market?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “There is no such thing as bad publicity – all publicity is good publicity”. Hmm, should product managers really believe this? A good case study may have just happened over at the Gap. They decided to redesign their logo, and it went over like a lead balloon. What can we product managers learn from their fiasco?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoffrey Anderson February 25, 2011 at 7:51 am

Great post Jim, and timely. I say this from Jim Holland on twitter (@jim_holland) and thought it was going to be a post on how product management should have known their project was doomed.

Perhaps they did. I do know that at large enterprises (mine included) senior executives get glossy eyed when someone pitches “Social Media”. However, somewhere between this twinkle in the eye, and what is allowed to get through the prioritization pipeline, the big picture guys often “just don’t get it” an thus Product management has to repeatedly retool, retune, and revise the specs and requirements until it is simple enough for the big men in the room to understand and move on.

I am not surprised that Microsoft failed at their first attempt, and you are right, MS can and will figure out a path forward, but the teens and ‘tweens’ is a hard market to plan for as it is fickle, and is a rapidly moving target.

Thanks for the insightful post!

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

Geoffrey: you make a very good point — that product pipeline can be a very dynamic place. Microsoft is SO big and has SUCH deep pockets, I think that they eventually have to be successful in this mobile space. It just looks like we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to see what things look like…!

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