Tag Archives: origami

Kin questions as Microsoft pulls the plug

So Microsoft has stopped work on its Kin phone and cancelled plans for a European launch:

We have made the decision to focus on our Windows Phone 7 launch and we will not ship KIN in Europe this fall as planned. Additionally, we are integrating our KIN team with the Windows Phone 7 team, incorporating valuable ideas and technologies from KIN into future Windows Phone releases. We will continue to work with Verizon in the U.S. to sell current KIN phones.

The Kin went on sale in May in the US, on Verizon. I’ve never seen a Kin device; but there were several obvious problems:

  • The phones were not that good, according to reports. In perhaps the most competitive technology market that exists, a device has to be exceptional to succeed; and even then it might not. Palm webOS phones are great devices and still not really winners.
  • The Verizon plan was too expensive at $70 per month – a bewildering price for the youth market which was the supposed target.
  • Even if the phones and service had been good, the launch was puzzling in the context of the build-up to Windows Phone 7 later this year.

My initial reaction to Kin was “Whose fault is it?” and there has been no reason to change it.

The whole thing is a tragi-comedy, and joins projects like the Ultra Mobile PC, or Origami, whose failure was baked into the launch – Origami was also too expensive for its market as well as flawed in its design.

Killing the Kin after just a few weeks is embarrassing, but the right decision.

The key question though: what does the costly development, launch, and scrapping of Kin say about Microsoft’s management? If I were a shareholder I’d like to know the answer to that one.

I might also ask why Microsoft is spending big on an advertising campaign to persuade us to become “new busy” when we are already busy enough, for an online service that is mostly not yet launched? I wonder how many potential users took a look at the new Hotmail, observed that it was the same as the old one, and will never come back?

In the case of Kin the company has at least recognized its mistake; but the deeper problem is an accident-prone culture that is damaging Microsoft’s prospects.

Steve Ballmer and Ray Ozzie at All things Digital – a poor performance

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie put on a poor performance when quizzed by Walt Mossberg at the All Things Digital conference, judging by Ina Fried’s live blog.

What was wrong with it? They allowed the conversation to be focused mainly on competing products: Apple iPad, Google Android, Google Apps, Google search. Since these products have exposed weaknesses in Microsoft’s own offerings, it was unlikely to work out well.

Mossberg asks about the transition to the cloud. “You guys are putting, for instance, a version of Office in the cloud.”

That was a gift. You would expect the two men to enthuse about how Microsoft’s dominance with desktop Office was now including the cloud as well, how the Office Web Apps enable new opportunities for collaboration, how Microsoft’s investment in XML for Office was now enabling the same document to live both on the desktop and in the cloud.

Nope. Ozzie waffles about people being more connected. Ballmer “disputes the notion that everything is moving to the cloud”.

So what about Steve Jobs prediction, of a transition from PCs to tablets and mobile devices? Ballmer says “not everyone can afford five devices,” lending support to the notion that Windows is for those who cannot afford something better.

Mossberg asks about tablets. Although Mossberg did not say so explicitly, tablets have been a tragi-comedy at Microsoft. Bill Gates evangelised the tablet concept years ago, pre-echoing Jobs’ claim that they would largely replace laptops. Microsoft tried again and again, with XP Tablet Edition, Vista on tablets, then “Origami”, or Ultra-mobile PC. Going back even further there were was the stylus-driven Palm-size PC (I have one in the loft). Tablet PC was not a complete failure, but remained an expensive niche. Origami sank without trace.

Ballmer replied that the “race is on”. Meaning? I guess, now that Apple has demonstrated how to make a successful Tablet, Microsoft will copy it? Or what?

I am not sure how you defend such a poor track record; but the starting point would be to explain that Microsoft has learned from past mistakes. In some ways it has; Windows 7 learns from mistakes in Vista, and Windows Phone 7 learns from mistakes in Windows Mobile.

None of that from Ballmer, who says vaguely that he expects Windows to run on a variety of devices. He makes matters worse later, by defending the stylus. “A lot of people are going to want a stylus,” he says. Some do, perhaps, but Apple has pretty much proved that most people prefer not to have one. I’d like to see effort go into designing away the need for a stylus, rather than implying that Microsoft is just going to repeat its part mistakes.

Someone in the audience asks, “Will we see Silverlight on Android or iPhone?” “My guess is  if it did, it would be blocked”, says Ballmer, ignoring the Android part of the question.

He’s ignoring the force of the question. Why bother developing for Silverlight, if it is locked into a Microsoft-only future, especially considering the company’s poor position in mobile currently? Ballmer could have mentioned the Nokia Symbian port. He could have said how Microsoft would get it on iPhone just as soon as Apple would allow it. He could have said that Microsoft is working with Google on an Android port – I don’t know if it is, but certainly it should be. He could have said that Silverlight plus Visual Studio plus Microsoft’s server applications is a great platform that extends beyond Windows-only clients.

Microsoft does have problems; but it also has strong assets. However it is doing an exceptionally poor job of communicating its strengths.

Update: There is a fuller transcript at Engadget, in which Ballmer and Ozzie come over better, though they still fail to impress. On mobile though, I like this comment:

We have new talent, we had to do some cleanup, we did it for Windows, and we’re doing it for mobile. And excellence in execution is also part of the equation.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone present at the event.