Microsoft Kin Phones Could Be Hampered by Price

Microsoft will debut its Kin One and Kin Two phones in stores May 13. While the devices are targeted at a social-networking-happy demographic, their high monthly price for calls and data could put them out of reach of teenagers and younger users. Reports indicate that Microsoft may eventually merge the Kin platform with Windows Phone 7, scheduled to debut near the end of 2010, which would in theory allow Kin users to download mobile applications. Analysts say Kin phones will need a number of factors to work in their favor to succeed.

Microsoft's Kin phones, designed to appeal specifically to a younger demographic interested in social networking, are due to debut in stores May 13. Carried exclusively in the United States by Verizon, the Kin One and Kin Two include hardware and applications meant to deliver a constant stream of updates and other social data to the user-but the high monthly price for the devices might prevent many members of the target demographic, such as teenagers, from obtaining them.

The Kin One will retail for $49.99 and the Kin Two for $99.99, after a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year service plan. Talk plans start at $39.99 per month, while e-mail and Web for Smartphone plans start at $29.99 for unlimited monthly access.

The Kin One's form factor mirrors that of the similarly rounded Palm Pre, with both a touch screen and a sliding QWERTY keyboard, while the Kin Two has a more rectangular shape along with the same input features. They are, for lack of a better term, cute.

That monthly connectivity price may seem pretty steep for a phone that lacks a good deal of smartphone functionality, but some reports are indicating that Microsoft could eventually merge the Kin platform with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform, potentially making the Kin One and Two a more economical proposition in the process by allowing Kin owners to download mobile applications. Such a transition would presumably occur after Windows Phone 7 makes its debut near the end of 2010.

Moreover, reviews for the Kin devices have been mixed; there has been praise for Kin Studio, which uploads user content to the cloud, but tech Websites have expressed qualms about the user interface, the slow pace of downloading new social networking updates and a handful of hardware issues.

That could spell trouble for the Kin, which needs all those elements to work in concert in order to attract users in a crowded smartphone field.

"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 critical," Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, wrote in an April 13 research note. "Success will also depend on what types of service plans are available, how they're priced and how good the service is (i.e., the AT&T/iPhone fiasco would be a killer for Kin). Finally, what specialized services will the carriers offer to try and garner some of the potential cloud revenue?"

Vodaphone will take over carrier duties for the Kin when the devices appear in Germany, Italy, Span and the United Kingdom later in 2010.