New phones target social networkers

Microsoft moves to regain ground

Microsoft senior product manager Derek Snyder demonstrated the Kin Studio that comes with the new Kin phones, below. Microsoft senior product manager Derek Snyder demonstrated the Kin Studio that comes with the new Kin phones, below. (Photos By Tony Avelar/Associated Press)
By Rachel Metz
Associated Press / April 13, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft Corp. unveiled two cellphones yesterday meant for social networking-savvy teens and twenty-somethings in an attempt to revitalize its mobile business and regain ground on iPhones and BlackBerrys.

Microsoft said its new touchscreen phones — a short, square handset called Kin One and a longer, more rectangular one called Kin Two — will be sold exclusively in the United States by Verizon Wireless. They are being made by Sharp Corp., which has produced Sidekick cellphones, whose software comes from Microsoft-owned Danger Inc.

Microsoft has mostly sold its mobile software to other companies to put it on phones they make. This will be the case with its recently announced Windows Phone 7 Series software. The Kin phones mark a departure, as Microsoft has sway over the creation of their software and hardware.

Verizon said it will start selling the Kin phones online in early May and in stores shortly thereafter. In the fall, carrier Vodafone Group PLC — which owns Verizon Wireless in partnership with Verizon Communications Inc. — will start selling the Kin phones in Italy, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Microsoft has not announced prices.

Microsoft needs help in the cellphone market. Its software has been losing share while Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which makes the Android operating software, have gained. Microsoft software ran on 13.1 percent of smartphones sold in the United States last year, according to research firm In-Stat. That put Microsoft in third after BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple.

Roz Ho, leader of the Microsoft team behind the Kin, said the company has been working on the Kin devices for several years, trying to create a handset for people who especially want to connect with others over social websites such as Facebook. The phones are also meant for people who want a handset that works simply, without forcing them to hunt through menus and icons, she said.

That setup could also present a risk. Unlike most popular smartphones, the Kins won’t have access to application stores that let customers download add-on software programs.