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Day July 10, 2010

Next of Kin

When the Kin was launched, many, including myself, were skeptical. It was a product that contradicted much of what made sense in the industry. It was not a smartphone, it was not a platform and it was predicated on a niche use case. It was, in essence, a feature phone, and as such was not differentiable. However, most people, myself included, were willing to overlook some of these flaws on the basis that Microsoft *must* have done some rigorous product research to support this concept. We fell for the premise that the Emperor *must* have been wearing clothes.

It turns out he wasn’t. With this knowledge, we should ask the same question regarding clothing to the “next of kin”: Windows Phone 7. There is this same sense of deja vu, that there are a lot of things wrong with WP7, but Microsoft can’t be foolish enough to fail on this. The problems with WP7 are indeed potentially fatal:

- It is a new platform with no ecosystem facing entrenched incumbents
- It is expensive relative to Android for OEMs while being completely symmetric in its approach to the licensing market
- It is not leveraging the installed base of Windows Mobile, and is alienating to WM’s core business users/buyers.
- it faces a branding challenge, like its predecessor
- it is feature incomplete, barely on par with iPhone from 2008

In fact, it’s hard to come up with any key value upon which to anchor the platform. Beside the fact that it is new or, if one were charitable, “fresh” in the interface, it seems to be a solution looking for a problem. Reminiscent of the Zune in many ways, it’s tempting to dismiss it.

Yet there is always the benefit of doubt being from Microsoft. Or is there? After Kin, is it time to give up on the old adage that Microsoft persists until it wins and never gives up? The Microsoft that won was a low-end disruptor. Offering less-than-good-enough products at lower prices or bundling parts of software into compelling packages, Microsoft expanded markets and increased computing consumption. This is not in the cards for mobile computing.

Microsoft in Mobile is not playing to its core strengths. Indeed, mobility is a disruptive force for their core. Doing “the right thing” in mobile cannot but threaten the sustaining cash cow of Windows. Microsoft seems to be floundering precisely because it’s trapped in the innovator’s dilemma.