Microsoft's week was first highlighted by the unveiling of its Kin One and Kin Two phones, aimed at a younger and social-networking-friendly demographic, before moving on to focus on more international issues. After a report on allegedly substandard conditions at the KYE factory in China, which produces a number of Microsoft products, Redmond shifted into damage-control mode by promising to send an audit team to investigate. Microsoft also announced that it would outsource its internal IT services to India-based Infosys.
Microsoft's week started off with the unveiling of its Kin
One and Kin Two phones, aimed at a younger and social-networking-happy
demographic, at a high-profile stage event in San Francisco on April 12.
Journalists in New York City followed along via live video feed, which showed
Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division,
stating that the devices' target was "the sharing generation" for whom "social
life is their priority No. 1."
Formerly known to the media as the oft-rumored "Project
Pink," the Kin One and Kin Two include built-in camera modules capable of
capturing video, as well as an operating system modified to facilitate the
posting of messages and media to the user's collection of friends and
The smaller Kin One, with a form-factor reminiscent of the
Palm Pre, includes a slider QWERTY keyboard for "one-handed texting," according
to the Website Kin.com
, in addition to a
touch screen, a mono speaker tuned for speakerphone and 4GB of memory. The
larger Kin Two is more rectangular, in many ways a cousin to the T-Mobile
Sidekick, and features a sliding QWERTY keyboard, stereo speakers and 8GB of
memory. Both the Kin One and Kin Two include a media player powered by Zune,
and will be exclusively carried in the United States by Verizon.
"As we were working on Windows Phone 7, we said we had an
opportunity to pursue a different possible audience," Bach said, adding that
the Kin was "a deeply social phone that will give [that demographic] what they
According to research firm comScore, Microsoft occupied 15.1
percent of the smartphone OS market in the three-month period ending in
February 2009, down from 19.1 percent the quarter before. Contrast that to
Research In Motion, which held 42.1 percent of the market, followed by Apple
with 25.4 percent. Google Android holds around 9 percent of the market, but
analysts expect that share to grow rapidly as more manufacturers install the
operating system onto future devices.
While Windows Phone 7, due for release near the end of 2010,
is widely expected to be Microsoft's primary attempt to regain market share,
the question remains how the Kin One and Kin Two fit into that larger picture
despite their focus on a very specific audience segment.
"I would argue that Kin may be the more important product of
the two OS offerings," Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates,
wrote in an April 13 research note. "Kin is a bigger gamble, whereby Microsoft
is trying to define a new market niche. If it catches on, Kin could usher in a
new class of -Facebook in Your Pocket' devices, just like the iPhone created a
class of devices for Internet-centric users."
However, Gold continued, substantial questions remain about
the Kin phones, which are scheduled to make their debut sometime in May.
"How well will Microsoft and carrier partners (Verizon in
the U.S., Vodafone in other parts of the world) promote the device and build a
loyal and virally expanding user base?" Gold wrote. "Success will depend on how
well Studio and Windows Live support integrate with the phone, and since only
Microsoft can deploy a new service to the device, how well it does so is
The rest of Microsoft's week had a more international focus.
pledged to send an investigative team to the KYE factory in Dongguan City,
, after an April 13 report by the nonprofit National Labor Committee
suggested that the facility imposes substandard living and working conditions
on many of its employees.
"Over the past three years, unprecedented photographs of
exhausted teenage workers, toiling and slumping asleep on their assembly line
during break time, have been smuggled out of the KYE factory," reads the
introduction to the report by the National Labor Committee, which is dedicated
to drawing attention to labor and human rights abuses. "Workers are paid 65
cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for
In addition, according
to the report
, workers are prevented from talking or listening to music
during their shift, while also being forced to endure restricted freedom of
movement and harassment from security guards. The factory also produces
products for Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Best Buy, among other companies.
"Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of
workers employed by our vendors," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to
eWEEK April 14. "Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability
program and robust independent third-party auditing program to ensure
conformance with the Microsoft Vendor Code of Conduct."
However, the report suggests that KYE factory management has
taken steps in the past to cover labor violations. Microsoft representatives
who visited the factory, it stated, were "always...accompanied by mid- and
high-level managers. On these walk-throughs, U.S. company representatives
hardly ever speak to the workers." Ahead of corporate audits, allegedly,
workers are coached about what to say with regard to working conditions, dorms,
meals and shift length.
Other tech companies have experienced similar tensions with
their manufacturing vendors. In a 2009 audit, for example, Apple found 17
violations of its Code of Conduct in a review of 102 facilities.
Microsoft also embraced outsourcing this week, with its
internal IT services now being handled by India-based Infosys, which plans on
providing the company with help desk, desk-side services, and infrastructure
and application support through multiple centers worldwide.
"Infosys demonstrated that it understood our
transformational goals by introducing a flexible and innovative end-to-end
approach to manage our support infrastructure," Jim BuBois, general manager of
Service Management for Microsoft, wrote
in an e-mailed statement to eWEEK on April 13.
"The fully integrated
solution developed by Infosys, combined with process compliance, a robust tool
platform and the creation of a Service Excellence Office will help us enhance
how we deliver end-user computing services to our internal employees and
partners while leveraging the innovation and investments we make in developing
In an April 13 statement, Infosys also suggested that the
knowledge of Microsoft technologies learned in the course of the agreement
would allow it to service other customers using those same technologies. One
piece of Microsoft software that Infosys may very well not be servicing,
though, is Windows Vista RTM: Microsoft
killed support for that original and patch-free version of its older operating
system on April 13
, forcing anyone still on Vista who wants support to
update their copies with Service Packs.