Update: Microsoft unveils 'Kin' phones for the socially connected

Both devices have touch screens and physical keyboards and will be available in May

Microsoft announced two new wireless Windows phones today, called Kin One and Kin Two, focused on socially connected users. The names are derived from the word "kindred."

Built by Sharp, the two slider phones include Microsoft's Zune media player and will be sold in the U.S exclusively by Verizon Wireless starting in May. They will be sold by Vodafone in the fall in Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.

Kin One phone
Microsoft's Kin One phone focuses on social networking. With a square shape, it has a five-megapixel camera and 4GB of memory.

Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, described the Kin devices as in the Windows phone family but separate from phones from Microsoft that will appear in the fall with the Windows Phone 7 Series operating system. Bach didn't reveal many details distinguishing the two phones in a Webcast, but said the Kin devices will "amplify" the lives of users, while Windows Phone 7 phones will "simplify" users' lives.

After the Webcast, Microsoft said the devices use the Windows Phone OS for Kin, which is distinct from the Windows Phone OS 7.0. Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the Kin's OS appears to be a "locked-down derivative" of the coming Windows Phone 7, with influences from other Windows Mobile OSes.

Kin Two phone
The Kin Two phone, the larger device, has a wider screen, 8 megapixel camera and shoots HD video.

Microsoft said the Kins will "amplify" users' lives through three methods of sharing texts and photos wirelessly while using the Kin interface. Kin Loop appears on the homescreen to show all the different things happening in a user's social world. Kin Spot allows users to drag videos, Web pages, location and more data to a green spot on the screen to automatically share that information with the users in Kin Loop. A third interface tool called Kin Studio is a kind of digital journal that backs up texts, call history, photos and videos so users can easily go back and replay content from an event, such as a recent party. That data is available in the cloud from any browser, Microsoft said.

Verizon did not reveal the price of each device, nor did it reveal many of the hardware specifications.

On its Web site, Microsoft showed a few features but did not provide the size and weight of each device. Both are sliders and have touchscreens as well as physical keyboards. The Kin One is nearly a square-shaped device, while Kin Two is wider, with more room on the keyboard for two-handed texting.

Known as "Pink" while under development, the Kin One has a 5 megapixel camera, and the Kin Two has an 8 megapixel camera and shoots high-definition video.

The Kin One provides 4GB of storage, enough for 1,000 songs, while the Kin Two has double that amount.

Gold said Microsoft needed to meet the phone desires of young customers and worked with wireless carriers and with Sharp to build a design. That's a departure from years of developing the Windows Mobile OS for manufacturers to include in phone designs and then bring to carriers.

Because the Kin devices are so focused on social connections, unlike a fully loaded smartphone, they are "almost totally dependent on having a [wireless] connection, which means if you are in a bad coverage area, you are going to be pretty upset with the device."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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