posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 12th Apr 2010 19:48 UTC
IconToday, at a press event in San Francisco, Microsoft launched two mobile phones which run a specialised, social media-oriented version of Windows Phone. The devices are aimed at the social generation of teens and twentysomethings (I shall burn in hell for writing that), and while they do not appeal to me (and you, I take it) in any way, shape, or form, they do sport an immensely interesting user interface.

Called the Kin One and Kin Two, the devices are the successors to Danger's Sidekick mobile phones and messaging devices; Microsoft bought Danger in 2008. Like the Sidekicks, the Kins are built by Sharp, with the software coming courtesy of Microsoft. Carriers will be Verizon in the US, and Vodafone everywhere else.

To throw my cards on the table hard enough to slice open a coconut: this stuff isn't for me, and I have the sneaking suspicion they aren't for any OSNews reader either. These things are aimed at people who - how can I put this delicately - derive their sense of self-worth from the amount of "friends" they have on Facebook and how many followers they have on Twitter. I'm not judging - some of my friends are like that and they ain't all bad. They're just a bit... Preoccupied, if you know what I mean.

You cannot install applications on these phones, local storage is small (everything is synced to the internet), and overall, they feel more like feature phones than smartphones - which is probably the point. This will likely keep them relatively cheap as well, so that teenagers can buy these Kin phones too.

That being said however, I do have to commend Microsoft for what they've come up with. The interface is elegant and beautiful, and built around two concepts: the Loop and the Spot. The Loop is like the tiled home screen on Windows Phone 7, and holds the information you want - people you care about, stuff like that (it's not entirely clear to me, though, how it works).

The Spot is a UI concept and element that I really liked. It's a green drop zone that sits at the bottom of the screen at all times, and you can drag the stuff you want to share onto that spot as well as the people you want to share it with. This can be other people's status updates, web pages, photos, videos, whatever you want. It's a sort of universal share dropbox (Courier screen hinge, anyone?).

Speaking of photos and videos - Microsoft really emphasized the quality of the cameras on both devices (4MP for the One, 8 for the Two), and that seems like a good point to focus on; if I've learned one thing from my time with the sort of people these devices are aimed it, it's that they like to take photos. Of everything.

Since these phones are synced to the internet (I refuse to use the word "cloud"), Microsoft more or less recreated the software experience on the phone for use in the web browser (including the Spot). All the photos and videos you make, as well as your contacts, can be accessed in a pretty cool interface right on the web.

Overall, I'm very impressed with the amount of thought and polish Microsoft has put into the Kin devices and their software, and I like how they are really trying to come with new ways for people to use software - whether I like these phones or not, they're clearly unique and original, and in a world of iPhone clones, that's a good thing. Whether people will want to buy these or not, while they can also buy iPhones or Android devices, remains to be seen however.

The UI style and colour choices are starting to match between Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360/Live, and now this Kin thing. More and more the pieces are starting to fit together, and while this event revealed nothing about the Courier (the device everybody really wants) it does show Microsoft is willing to come up with new things - which bodes well for the Courier.

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