Kin's death may signal mobile morbidity at Microsoft

Analysts note Windows Mobile 7 will arrive alongside major BlackBerry update, continued strong sales of iPhone and Android devices

As postmortems of the untimely death of Microsoft's Kin mobile phones continue to be written, some observers have started wondering aloud whether Microsoft has any future at all in the mobile technology business.

The software giant has announced that Windows Phone 7, or WP7, will start appearing on mobile devices in the fall, but observers question whether it can be successful at a time when Research In Motion is planning a major update for BlackBerry, and Apple's iPhone 4 and a raft of Android devices have had time to reach ever-larger audiences.

"Microsoft is in a tough spot with mobile," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "They've let Apple get a three-year lead with iPhone, and there's BlackBerry with the same approach for control of hardware, software and applications. At the other end of the spectrum you have Android on many devices and carriers."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, believes that Microsoft's decision last week to basically kill the Kin will be viewed by enterprise buyers of traditional Windows Mobile devices as further evidence that Microsoft's efforts to gain traction in the mobile device business are in trouble.

"It's looking bleak for Microsoft in the mobile OS space," said Gold. "The longer they delay getting [WP7] to market, the more bleak it looks. Whatever they release has to be rock-solid out of the gate or people won't give them a second chance."

The Kin One and Kin Two devices, based on technology gained from Microsoft's $500 million acquisition of Danger Inc. in 2008, were targeted at teenagers and young adults. But even though Kin buyers were not enterprise workers, IT managers interested in Windows Phone 7 devices will look closely at how Microsoft handled -- or mishandled -- the Kin effort, Gold said.

"Enterprises will look at this Kin decision and ask, 'If Microsoft can't get Kin right, why would I think they will get WP7 right?' " Gold said.

The most celebrated technology feature of the Kin was Studio, which allowed the storing of pictures and other multimedia in the cloud. It's unlikely that the initial version of WP7, whose release to manufacturers is imminent for expected availability by the fall buying season, will include Studio, Rosoff said.

However, both Gold and Rosoff said Microsoft should incorporate Studio in any future WP7 release.

Gold suggested that WP7 "may not make it to market this year," noting that the demise of Kin put the WP7 effort even further behind schedule.

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