Somebody notify the next of kin, Microsoft KIN is dead

Perhaps those rumors about iPhone going to Verizon are true. Microsoft is killing off KIN, just six weeks after putting the smartphone on sale. Microsoft launched the KIN -- its youth-oriented, consumer social networking smartphone -- in early April. Today, the company answered the question I asked on May 5: "Is Microsoft KIN stud or dud?" Somebody up the corporate decision tree decided the latter -- or perhaps that KIN isn't stud enough to share Verizon with iPhone. Concurrent with KIN's sudden death -- oh, baby, we hardly knew you -- Microsoft is shifting resources and personnel to Windows Phone 7.

Earlier today I asserted that iPhone 4's "Death Grip" launch "may rank among the top marketing fiascos of the 2010s." Microsoft already has one-upped Apple. KIN is a disaster of magnanimous proportions.  In February 2008, Microsoft announced acquisition of Danger, which technology and resources were dedicated in part to KIN. Thereafter, Microsoft spent millions of dollars developing KIN, in two models, and bringing it to market. As recently as the weekend, I saw KIN commercials during prime-time programming; Microsoft invested in a massive marketing campaign, too.

Companies simply don't pull major new products so suddenly after launching them. The situation is giving me the Windows Vista willies. It's Déjà vu time, feeling like early 2006 when Microsoft announced that Windows Vista wouldn't ship for the holidays. The executive team mismanaged the operating system's development, and it would take until Windows 7's autumn 2009 launch for Microsoft to fix the problems. KIN's death comes amidst other Microsoft mismanagement. In late May, a Microsoft Entertainment & Devices division reorganization sent president Robbie Bach and wonderboy J Allard packing, in a clear vote of no-confidence. That day, I described the reorg as "doomed."

Microsoft's mobile problems go back years. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer should have dealt with them sooner than May 2010. In October 2008 I declared: "Windows Mobile is an also-ran." KIN's launch changed nothing, and, sadly, other than wounded Microsoft egos and shivering shareholders, the smartphone's demise changes even less. KIN will come to symbolize Microsoft's mobile mismanagement  the way Windows Vista personified poor operating system leadership. If I were Microsoft PR, I'd milk the bad news as way of shifting negative attention away from Windows Phone 7. Put all the garbage in one bucket and let it stink so much that people don't notice the other festering waste.

The important question: Did someone make a remarkably good management decision by chopping off a gangrenous limb? Or is the KIN whacking more mismanagement? Sadly, I see both good and bad decision-making -- more the worse. Microsoft never gave KIN a chance to succeed, or even fail. On May 29, I asserted that "Steve Ballmer IS the right man to turn around Microsoft mobile." Two weeks after Ballmer admitted Microsoft's mobile failures, I was the one admitting being wrong -- about the chief executive being the best choice to lead the mobile efforts or even Microsoft. KIN's killing makes me even less confident about his leadership leading to a rapid turnaround. Again, this all stinks of 2006 and Windows Vista's disastrous release. I don't hold out much hope for Windows Phone 7.

That's troubling, because Microsoft doesn't have the time necessary to fix the problem. Windows is a monopoly Microsoft controls. Mobile is not. Microsoft could take three years to put together a reasonably good Windows release. If Windows Phone 7 isn't it -- meaning the product is more like Vista -- there won't be time to get version 8 to market. Smartphones will have stormed the handset market, with Apple and Google leading the charge as Nokia and Research in Motion struggle to keep up or stay ahead.

In June 2008, I first asserted that Microsoft should launch a "mobile Manhattan Project" to turn around things. Apple had yet to release the second iPhone, the 3G, and the first Android smartphone was months from its debut on T-Mobile. Microsoft still had plenty of room for maneuvering past upstarts. Instead, Microsoft responded to the iPhone 3G launch by touting the number of Windows Mobile licenses that would ship in 2008 and number of phones running the software. The memo was credited to Andy Lees, the same Microsoft executive who is leading Windows Phone 7's way and inheriting personnel from the KIN killing. There is no mobile Manhattan Project, but leadership living in denial about the future and the kind of resources necessary just to stay in the game. Winning is no longer an option -- not at the current level of commitment.

KIN is a symbol of everything wrong with Microsoft's mobile leadership. What I won't yet answer: Is KIN a symbol of past or current mismanagement? I refrain, holding out for the slimmest chance that somebody might have been smart enough to cut off an infected limb to save the body. The other choice is simply unthinkable: Cutting off a healthy limb.

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