Meet KIN: Microsoft’s new social phone

Microsoft has announced a new mobile phone platform called KIN. KIN, which looks like the lovechild of Windows Phone 7 and the Zune HD operating system, is designed with heavy social media users in mind, a demographic that Microsoft is calling “sociologists”. It will be available on two new handsets made by Sharp, called ONE and TWO.

KIN revolves around three main features called Loop, Spot and Studio. The phone’s software pulls contact information from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and merges them into the OS. Loop uses those contacts to display a stream of information on the phone’s homescreen comprised of your selected friend’s status updates on various services. Spot, which is literally a spot on the bottom of the screen, allows you to drag pretty much anything onto it — friends, photos, videos, messages, etc — and then select how you want to share it. Studio is a sleek looking web based interface that integrates the phone with the cloud. It will back up everything on the phone and make it available online with instant syncing between the two. It will also allow users to save photos and videos off the phone in case they are running out of space.

Another feature of the software is a “Zune experience.” Subscribers to Microsoft’s Zune Pass service will be able to access theirmusic on the KIN phones. The phone’s will also be able to sync and play back a users existing music collection as well as play video, FM radio and podcasts. The OS also features a browser, Bing integration and RSS support.

The handsets are both sliders with touch screens and QWERTY keyboards. ONE is the smaller and lesser of the pair. It sports a 320×240 screen, 5 megapixel camera that records VGA video and 4GB of internal memory. TWO has looks and specs more akin to a smartphone with a 480×320 screen, 8 megapixel still/720p video camera and 8GB of storage capacity.

What’s missing? KIN doesn’t support apps, there is no calendar program, it has GPS but no maps, no XBOX Live or any games whatsoever and no web video (read: YouTube). The specific features that it lacks place it in an awkward space in the market. Most users tech savvy enough to be interested in this particular feature set are likely to want a full featured smartphone.

Still, it would be wrong to underestimate the potential that lies here. KIN looks like a very interesting product, especially coming from Microsoft. It has a lot of compelling features and the Studio web interface pretty much sets the bar for cloud syncing in the consumer space. Who knows, maybe Microsoft will carve out a new niche or create the new standard for what non-smartphones will be like in the future. The jury is still out on this one.

Both handsets will be available in the US next month (May) through Verizon and in Europe sometime this fall through Vodaphone. No word yet as to how much they will cost or what kind of contracts they will be attached to.

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About Isaac Gateno