The Kin – A Third Generation Social Media Device Failure

by Paul D'Alessandro on April 20, 2010


Since the earlier part of the last decade, mobile device designers have attempted without success to bring a dedicated social media device to the thumbs of the Twitterazzi.  The first generation included multiple iterations of Danger’s Sidekick from 2002 until 2008.  While it became a pseudo hit with a niche group it never took off with any serious momentum.  After Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger in 2008 the product suffered major pain with the infamous data loss incident of October 2009.  The second generation of social media devices came from Motorola on September 10th, 20091.  It was on that day that the Motoblur interface for the Android platform was announced.  Motoblur is a pure social media interface of gadgets on top of Android to facilitate “easy” picture taking, texting, sharing and general socializing.  To date, this attempt too has been rather unsuccessful having been plagued with battery issues, data latency problems, technical glitches and a general lack of adoption.

Which brings us to the Kin.  Some might argue that the Kin really is not a third generation but a forced rebranding as a consequence of the data backup failure of October 2009 that brought Sidekick to death’s doorstep.  Others might argue that it is a faint attempt to make Windows Phone 7 relevant to a younger demographic.  Regardless of the reason Kin is different.  Kin comes in multiple form factors to better suit users needs.  One version is definitely the more “female” of the two, looking more like a compact fit for a purse.  The other more candy bar like, or the male version.  Of course Microsoft will never say this so as not to limit audiences but who would not recognize this?  Spot and Loop are a step in the right direction.  Loop is the Kin’s scrolling interface for consuming your stream of social media.  The idea seems to overcome some of the problems with Motoblur’s gadget based interface by being more natural to the user.  Spot is an ever present green dot that users can think about as their “attach button”.  Use it to drag whatever content you like into your choice of distribution channel (Twitter, Facebook, SMS, MMS, etc.).

The biggest issue is not the Kin itself but the entire notion of a social media device.  It will be a failure or at best a niche product, never achieving the grand aspirations of Microsoft.  There are three major points in understanding why this will happen:

  1. It is wrong to design, position, advertise and sell these devices as the center of ones social universe.  Social media, as known by any company who has launched a successful campaign is not about the campaign itself but instead about giving people something to talk about.  Today’s devices are more contextually aware than ever before (where am I, who am I talking too, what is next in my day).  Why are these device manufacturers insisting upon adhering to the old notion of have experience – capture experience – share experience?  Unleash the device!  These users have already demonstrated their willingness to share with applications like Foursquare and Tripit.  Don’t make them the center of the social universe, make them the silent conspirator.
  2. Single use devices don’t work in this space.  Someday mobile device designers are going to wakeup to the fact that the center of our computing needs no longer is the desktop or laptop but the mobile device.  We have high expectations.  If we don’t have them going in then we quickly realize them shortly thereafter.  The largest criticism of Motoblur is that the interface inhibits the broader use of the smartphone or the overall Android application space.
  3. Functionality in the name of simplicity is not simplicity.  Remember Bob?  Bob was the Microsoft disaster of 1995 that put a simple user interface on top of an existing user interface (Windows 95) to “simplify” it.  The designer’s battlefield is riddled with the carnage of attempts to create simplicity through layers of functionality.  The key to simplicity is not doing in 3 steps what you can do in 2 but instead finding a way to do it in 1 (or zero as inferred by the silent conspirator notion above).

Someday we will land on a way for social media to thread its way into the fabric of our life more effectively.  I don’t expect the Kin to bring about that day.

  1. A rather ominous choice of days in Motorola history as this coincides with their badly timed sale of the government business in 2001

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Weave April 26, 2010 at 6:56 am

I’d like to read the pre-release marketing results for The Kin. How many would-be users responded with “It’s great, but I need an all-in-one device”. Perhaps the folks behind Kin, so enamoured with their product, stopped listening after hearing the first two words.

Is the market not driving towards greater integration of applications, not stand-alone devices? While the Kin’s functionality may be superior to other social networking tools, the main impetus behind most of today’s mobile technologies revolves around cramming as much stuff in a single interface as possible. The iPhone’s apps are the stuff of legend, but it’s a mediocre phone at best. However, only a fragment of the population will augment their voice requirements with a second device; they’ll simply tolerate dropped calls and pocket-dialing miscues. Just as they’re tolerate less-than-optimal social networking mediums.

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