Microsoft Discontinues Kin Phone – Why Not Offer it to Developing Countries?

Back in May Microsoft launched a new mobile device that struck somewhere in between a feature phone and a Smartphone. Yesterday, barely a month after the Kin launch, Microsoft pulled the plug on Kin saying it was integrating it’s Kin and Windows Mobile development teams.

Microsoft said Wednesday it has stopped work on the Kin to focus “exclusively” on Windows Phone 7, the company’s new smartphone operating system that’s scheduled to ship later this year. The Kin was built and promoted to attract a younger, social networking-oriented audience.

The official press release from Microsoft states:

“We have made the decision to focus exclusively on Windows Phone 7 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.”

Apparently Verizon, the provider for Kin in it’s short lived life had already cut the price of the phone by 50% on both models, making it fairly affordable for your typical mobile phone user in Africa and other developing nations where mobile phone use has sky rocketed over the years:

The Kin One, the lower-end model, dropped from $50 to $30, while the Kin Two, went from $100 to $50.

Now, this is just interesting (not referring to Microsoft’s pulling out a product from the market a few weeks after launch) – but even more interestingly is the fact that Ken Banks, the guy who started off the award winning FrontlineSMS, a while ago wrote a blog titled “The “emerging market” handset trap” about the need for low priced, higher featured phones than the typical Nokia 1100-type phones that are typical of developing markets. Ken’s rationale follows:

Low-cost phones have certainly achieved one thing – low cost – and in price terms they’ve done exactly what they said on the tin. Over the past five years or so, prices have indeed steadily dropped, as we can see if we pick an early “emerging market handset” winner from 2005 (the Motorola C113), a ZTE phone widely available in East Africa in 2008, and today’s Vodafone 150.

The prices may have changed, but functionality has largely stagnated. You couldn’t browse the web on the Motorola in 2005, nor the ZTE in 2008, and today you’d have the same problem on the Vodafone 150. You can’t download applications onto any of them, either. They all have monochrome screens and look pretty-much-the-same despite having a five year gap between them. Very little has changed other than price, it would seem. Voice and SMS remain king at the bottom of the pyramid, or so it would seem.

The real trick is to reduce the price of these phones whilst at the same time increasing (or at very least maintaining) functionality, a combination which no manufacturer has yet managed to crack. Nokia’s announcement last week of their cheapest 3G-enabled phone for the Indian market shows prices are shifting downward for data enabled phones, but at $90 it’s still some way off what most would consider affordable for the remaining 1.5 billion people in the world without a phone.


From today’s announcement, a sub-$40 smart phone – which really would change the game – looks to be as far off as ever.

Well… here’s Microsoft with a fairly highly featured phone at just the right price (below $40 and just above $40)…

Straddling the fence somewhere between a dedicated smartphone and high-spec feature phone..

And they are pulling the plug on a potentially game changing device in developing markets! This may be speculative… but why not offer it to developing regions such as Africa, applying to it the same business models and service models such as no contracts – buy the phone up front, prepay models, opened up to whichever mobile service provider the consumer prefers….???