Afraid of Microsoft Kin

The Microsoft Kin phones have been smothered in their beds. Poor kids. When Verizon launched Microsoft’s two new messaging phones, it was met with a resounding chorus of negative reviews. I complained about the lack of apps and games on our reviews of the Kin One and Kin Two, but I was actually pretty kind. If you click over to Engadget or Phonescoop, you’ll see phrases like “I haven’t been this disappointed in a phone in a long time.” But here’s the thing: the Kins are misbegotten, crippled creatures compared to pretty much every smartphone on the market. They’ve been priced as smartphones, with smartphone data plans, and they’re being sold as smartphones, so the comparisons are fair.

But the Kins are actually interesting when compared with texting phones, otherwise known as “QMDs” or quick-messaging devices. Texting phones like the LG EnV series have Web browsers out of the 1990s, awful e-mail programs, and no socialnetworking skills at all. Because they cost $20 less per month than smartphones, they’re selling fast to kids who want to connect with their friends—without giving their parents a stroke when the monthly bill arrives.

No Kinship
The Kin could have had more appeal if Verizon had given it a cheaper data plan. But
Verizon didn’t because the company is actually afraid of these little guys, because Kin users, with their full Internet Explorer–based browsers and automatic photo uploads, will consume too much Internet. And rather than encouraging mobile Web use by making it more affordable, carriers are steadily raising rates. In january, Verizon slapped a $9.99 mandatory data plan on many of its texting phones, even for people who hardly use the Web at all. Verizon also tries to upsell those users onto $30, smartphone-esque data plans if they do choose to surf often. Verizon did lower its smartphone data plan from $45 to $30 about two years ago, but back then the vast majority of their phones didn’t require a data plan at all. Verizon’s not alone here. Long ago, T-Mobile had a “T-Zones” plan for mobile phones which cost $2.99 per month. Then the company raised the fee to $4.99. Now its minimum phone data plan costs $9.99. The Sidekick data plan used to be $19.99.
Now it’s $30. On AT&T, you may be familiar with its iPhone plan. Once it was $20; now it’s $30. For texting phones, AT&T now requires you to buy at least $20 worth of texting and data per month. Their chief executive, Ralph dela Vega, has been hinting for a while at the possibility of even more expensive, usagebased monthly data fees. Only Sprint has held the line with a $15 data plan for most of its phones. And that’s not mentioning the many additional monthly charges that carriers tack on. Want to use an e-mail client on a Verizon phone? That’ll be $5, thanks. How about GPS? $10 per month, please.

The True Motivation
I don’t think the carriers are solely greedy. I think they’re scared. Carriers are raising prices because they’re actually terrified of mobile phone owners using the Internet. They fear they don’t have enough Internet to go around. At conference after conference this year, I keep hearing about mobile Web scarcity—how there’s not enough spectrum, not enough capacity, not enough buildout. After all, we’ve seen what “excessive” demand can do to one carrier, watching AT&T’s struggles with all of its iPhone users in New York and San Francisco. New 4G networks may take some of the pressure off of 3G next year, but carriers need to look at optimizing their data flows, too. Opera and RIM, most notably, are doing a lot of work to provide full mobile experiences using less data. AT&T has been loading Opera Mini onto many of its texting phones recently, and that’s a win for everyone, especially iPhone users; it provides a much better Web experience than did previous browsers, and it transfers up to 90 percent less data than a truly full browser. A version of Opera Mini exists for Verizon’s BREW platform, but so far Verizon has ignored it.

Requiem for a Kin?
RIM, meanwhile, has been ringing the bell for server-side optimization with smartphones— but the company needs to explain how that’s going to save consumers not just time, but money. If RIM’s browsers and e-mail clients deliver less data than competing smartphones, maybe carriers should be giving them a break on the data plans. So take a moment to pity the Kin. As feature phones, they flew a little too close to the sun with their browser and Studio, and they got burned by the fearful, jealous gods who ultimately rule the mobile universe.

Source of Information : PC Magazine July 2010


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