The launch and discontinuation of the Kin series of mobile phones, all within six weeks, could be described as one of the worst cases of product stewardship ever, especially considering the $1 billon cost involved. Every product manager should heed the lessons of Microsoft’s Kin.
What is Kin?
Kin was a telephone targeted to the youth market offering built in social networking functionality. It had its origins in concepts created by a start-up, Danger, that was acquired by Microsoft. As a phone, it required a data plan, yet offered no web access or ability to download applications.
What went wrong?
With the Kin project, so much went wrong on so many levels, there is a lot a product manager can learn.
Kin was positioned as a sophisticated feature phone, that’s to say, it didn’t have all of the openness and functionality of a smartphone, but had some key functions that would appeal to its target market. Yet, this was a problem for the Kin. Unless it was aggressively priced, both on purchase and as a carrier plan, how could it compete against more fully featured smartphones?
For the Kin to work as a product, it required full buy-in to the concept from the mobile network carrier, in this case Verizon. However Verizon just treated it as another smartphone, requiring a smartphone data plan. Over the two year life of a typical plan, a reduced purchase cost of the Kin compared to a full smartphone would have been negligible. Therefore the Kin didn’t make sense. When defining a product, it’s essential to understand and specify the environment in which it will be used. Without a commitment from Verizon on pricing, this project should have been axed.
The Kin was targeted at the youth market. Unfortunately, it came over as product designed by old people for the youth market. The functional needs of that market, in reality, were closer to that of a standard smartphone. Sure they are price sensitive, but arguably more price sensitive when it came to telecommunications costs than device purchase costs.
For the Kin to work, it had to be cheap. It didn’t offer any special functionality that couldn’t be found on a standard smartphone, therefore it could only compete on price. Unfortunately, Microsoft priced it high and Verizon priced its data plans high. This ensured that the Kin was uncompetitive from the go. Arguably though, why was Microsoft trying to sell a cheap niche phone with zero lock-in potential? Is your company capable of delivering on your product strategy? Is it a good fit with your brand?
During the creation of the Kin, Microsoft decided to change the technology stack of the phone from Danger’s Java based system to their own Windows CE based system. This entailed huge investments and huge delays for a new unproven concept. Microsoft should have gone to market as soon as they could with the Java based technology.
It was a case of “Not Invented Here” that led to an expensive re-write. A Product Manager should try to prove their concepts in the market as cheaply as possible before investing huge amounts of money. What was Microsoft’s “minimum viable product?” They certainly shipped more than that. Had they done so, they would have recognized that the Kin concept was flawed and saved themselves a lot of money.
The Kin was a product that was flawed from its concept and should have been killed earlier in its life. Yet, even during the development and launch process, Microsoft continued to commit basic product management errors. Are you working on a Kin?