Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kin: Microsoft's Side Pot

The Phone Born from a Buzz Word

Yesterday had a few pretty big story, but the biggest one (and I thought most unexpected) was Microsoft's announcement of the Kin phone. Up until last week, it looked like Microsoft was putting all its mobile eggs in one basket with Windows Phone 7 Series (they direly need to shorten that), due out this winter. However, it appears that they have a side pot going on with a social networking phone known simply as "Kin" (a much better name). The handsets are made by Sharp (kind of an odd choice, but ok) and are due out this fall. Given that Palm announced the Pre last year so far in advance to less-than-stellar sales, I'm a little surprised by their early announcement. My guess is that they're trying to preempt the possibility of new iPhone hardware this summer.

Despite the skepticism I've already given you here, I think this phone really does have a lot going for it. The videos I've seen for it are wonderful. I really hope they go with that format of marketing moving forward. It seems to share a number of ideas from Windows Phone 7 Series, like Kin Loop, which is a live stream of all your social networking sites. The camera software also feels familiar from our impressions of Windows Phone 7 Series demos. What is new, and somewhat of a game changer, is Kin Studio. I think this is a pretty exciting feature and so obvious that it seems silly to not already exist. It's basically cloud storage for everything on your device (including pictures and other media, unlike Palm webOS) that you can access yourself from any web browser and do things you'd normally do on your phone, like share photos with friends and stuff. It even has a time line of snapshots of your phone. It reminds me a bit of when TiVo first came out with online scheduling and blew everyone away who had been chained to their living room. I don't think it'll be as revolutionary as that, but still very neat.


There's another added feature that's much more interesting to me called Kin Spot. If you remember seeing leaked videos of Microsoft Courier concepts you'll recall that it was like a booklet tablet where the middle of the two sides was an area for clipping items temporarily. The fact that the Kin features something almost identical but calls it "Kin Spot" provides a rather strong case for the reliability of the Courier leaks. It's basically copy/paste but really souped up and dynamic and it supports holding on to multiple items at a time.

There are some hurdles for Kin though. As I mentioned earlier, the time line for its release is a big concern. Putting your cards on the table like this in an industry that is now producing pretty big phones on a regular basis is a fairly big risk. The fact that they're marketing it totally independent of Windows Phone 7 and as a "feature phone" instead of a smartphone is really odd. What does this mean? Well, no app store for one thing. Think more like the Sidekick instead or the Motorola phones from way back when like the Razr. Putting Kin Studio only on these two phones and not on Windows Phone 7 just makes the confusion worse.

I want to be excited for Kin because it has so much going for it, but it definitely has a few big drawbacks and so we'll have to wait and see how things shake out.

Opera Mini Hits the App Store

This isn't a story I've talked about at all because I wrote it off like a lot of other people did. Apple has a pretty strict policy against allowing apps on the iPhone that duplicate existing functionality, hence there not being a Google Voice application available (which was a big fuss last year). So when Opera made an announcement about Opera Mini being submitted to the app store and was vocally confident about getting accepted, there was a collective snicker from the tech media. In the end though, they had the last laugh since it's now available to download from the app store. Not only that, but it was the number one free app download worldwide.

It looks like Apple was willing to forgive the fact that it kind of duplicates Safari's functionality in that it's another web browser. However, it supports tabbing, which may play into their strategy of muti-tasking in iPhone OS 4. It looks to be a pretty nice application with creative technologies at place for making web browsing faster and snappier than the already slick Safari browser that comes standard.

Stop the Madness, Steve

It wasn't all positive press for Apple last week (someone should graphically compare the balance of good and bad press for Apple now versus Microsoft like 10-20 years ago). An extremely controversial change was made last week to the iPhone OS Terms of Service to require applications to be written in Objective C, C++, C, or Javascript. This was such a huge blow to developers, especially those holding out hope for Flash on the iPhone, that a pretty big petition was started up urging Steve Jobs to reconsider. Jobs even responded to it.

When you dissect the decision, as John Gruber has, it actually seems pretty consistent with Apple's policies from the inception of the iPhone. Their competitive advantage isn't an open sandbox for everyone to play in like Android, but rather a carefully controlled environment where they believe they can guarantee a rich experience for all users and they completely own all technical aspects of that experience. Allowing middleware on top of the libraries they provide hurts their control and could allow a third party software company to have a frightening amount of control over the app ecosystem. Whether or not these concerns are valid or not, it's something that you have to accept with the iPhone platform. If you don't like it, go to Android of Palm webOS.

Please DO Change Your Password

I have to take a moment to respond to this article because it pissed me off a little bit. It's irresponsible for such a big news site to recommend that people not change your password because a stupid study says it's probably not going to help them. It warns of one particular type of attack, a replay attack (which is not viable for sites with SSL), and claims that changing your password doesn't protect you from this type of attack. News flash: you can never be 100% secure and so you have to employ a number of techniques to achieve the highest level of security. The article at least encourages people to come up with strong passwords that aren't derived from dictionary words, but I think they key is to understand that changing your password can help for your most important sites (like financial sites), but only if you pick good alternatives.

Closing Stories

I'm pretty drained so let's wrap things up.

Palm is officially up for sale. This is no surprise to most people, but I'm sad to see this since Palm effectively invented the smartphone and made a really good effort with the Palm Pre.

A really shocking report came out last week from the National Labor Committee going into detail about factory conditions in China for a factory used by Microsoft, HP, Logitech, LG, Acer, and others. Hopefully it will motivate more and more people to fight for the rights of these workers.

Twitter is trying to make money with promoted tweets.

Intel reported its best Q1 results ever despite seeing a drop in sales from Q4 (it was just a much lower one than usual).

Amazon has launched a shortened URL service, powered by bit.ly, to help people link to products.

This is a great list of open source programs for Windows from Test Freaks. I highly recommend reading over it.

If you're a Google fiend then you'll want to be sure to take stock of these tips.

Have a great week everyone!