Microsoft Gets Social With New Kin Smartphones

Microsoft unveiled two new smartphones on Monday, designed for the new generation of heavy social networking users. The phones, called the Kin One and Kin Two, feature many of the standard offerings of smartphones currently on the market…

And here's the Kin One with keyboard open. Photo: Microsoft.

Microsoft unveiled two new smartphones on Monday, designed for the new generation of heavy social networking users. The phones, called the Kin One and Kin Two, feature many of the standard offerings of smartphones currently on the market: touch screens, slide-out keyboards, Web browsers with pinch-to-zoom, and applications for download. Where the phones differ from traditional smartphones is in the integration with social networks.

The two new Microsoft’s phones are social-centric and put features like Facebook and Twitter at the core of the UI. Not exactly Windows 7, the Kins pull some elements of Windows new mobile OS while maintaining a tighter focus on social networking.

This closeup of the Kin One shows it with the keyboard hidden. Photo: Microsoft.

“If you are focused on social connection, self expression and a digital life, how do you bring that to a phone?” says Robbie Bach, president for entertainment and devices division at Microsoft. “As we were working on Windows Phone 7, we decided we had an opportunity to go after this social group of people?”

Kin One is a petite, rounded device with a 2.1-inch screen and 5-megapixel camera. Kin Two is a larger, palm-sized device with a 3.5-inch display and 8-megapixel camera. Both phones have multitouch displays, an accelerometer and video-recording capability, as well as hardware keyboards that slide out from underneath the screen.

Phones that integrate closely with social networking sites have been a huge trend with handset makers in the last two years. Almost every major phone maker, including Motorola and HTC, has phones that integrate Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and newsfeeds into a single stream on the phone’s display.

This Kin Two has its keyboard open and exposed. Photo: Microsoft.

The Kin series are designed to fill a niche among teens and young adults who use their phones to text, tweet and post things to Facebook at least as much as they make phone calls.

“We saw an opportunity to design a mobile experience just for this social generation – a phone that makes it easy to share your life moment to moment,” said Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s president of the Entertainment and Devices Division, in a statement.

Kin phones will have three home screens. The first includes access to e-mail, phone, newsfeeds, photos and browser. Swipe to the left and the next screen throws up a stream of status messages updated from contacts and newsfeeds. Swipe to the left once more and the third screen is a list of favorites marked by the phone users and what their social status says right then. However, Microsoft is late to this market. The companies like Motorola and HTC have already done this with the MotoBlur and the HTC Sense interface, respectively.

A Kin Two with keyboard closed sits in its hoped-for natural habitat: a coffeeshop table. Photo: Microsoft.

“What makes the Kin different”, says Microsoft, “is that it automatically backs up all its contents on a password-protected website. This idea of storing information in the cloud means users can access their photos, videos, messages and even call history from a browser anywhere and don’t have to just depend on their phone. The service offers unlimited storage and will be free.”

The both phones will be available on Verizon’s Wireless network in May and on Vodafone in Europe later this year. No pricing was yet announced. [Kin via CNN and Wired; Photos via Microsoft]

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