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Next, a Kin: Microsoft to try new consumer phones


The new KIN 1 is seen at a Microsoft news conference in San Francisco, on Monday.

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The new KIN 1 is seen at a Microsoft news conference in San Francisco

Microsoft Corp. unveiled two cell phones on Monday that are meant for social networking-savvy teens and twenty-somethings, in an attempt to revitalize its mobile business and regain ground on iPhones and BlackBerrys.

Microsoft said its new touch-screen phones – a short, square-shaped handset called Kin One and a longer, more rectangular one called Kin Two – will be sold exclusively in the U.S. by Verizon Wireless. They are being made by Sharp Corp., which has produced Sidekick cell phones, whose software comes from Microsoft-owned Danger Inc.

In the past, Microsoft has mostly sold its mobile software to other companies to put it on phones they make. This will be the case with its recently announced Windows Phone 7 Series software, which is expected to be on handsets by the holidays. The Kin phones mark a departure, as Microsoft has sway over the creation of their software and hardware.

Verizon said it will start selling the Kin phones online in early May and in stores shortly thereafter. In the fall, carrier Vodafone Group PLC – which owns Verizon Wireless in partnership with Verizon Communications Inc. – will start selling the Kin phones in Italy, Spain, Germany and the U.K. Microsoft has not yet announced prices.

Microsoft needs help in the cell phone market. Its software has been losing share while Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which makes the Android operating software, have gained. Microsoft software ran on 13.1 percent of smart phones sold in the U.S. last year, according to research firm In-Stat. That put Microsoft in third after BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple.

Roz Ho, leader of the Microsoft team behind the Kin, said the company has been working on the Kin devices for several years, trying to create a handset for people who especially want to connect with others over social Web sites such as Facebook. The phones are also meant for people who want a handset that works simply, without forcing them to hunt through menus and icons, she said.

That setup could also present a risk. Unlike most popular smart phones, the Kins won’t have access to application stores that let customers download add-on software programs. Ho said her team studied consumer habits and then built the activities they used most often into the Kin phones.

For instance, in a demo for The Associated Press, the Kin’s home screen showed a live stream of updates to social networks and Web sites that can be clicked on and responded to. Users can send photos and other material to people by dragging it onto a little circle at the bottom of the screen. A finger swipe across the screen can then bring up a page with applications such as photos and music.

The music player will be based on Microsoft’s Zune software, which also will be incorporated into the Windows Phone 7 handsets that multiple manufacturers will be able to use. That software was announced first, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, in February, but will hit the market later. Microsoft and Verizon said they don’t think consumers will get confused.

The Kin handsets will not be obviously branded as Microsoft products. They will sport a sizable “Kin” logo on the back and, in smaller type, an indication that they are Windows phones from Verizon and Sharp.

Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney doesn’t think the lack of a dedicated application store will hurt the Kins’ chances. Instead he’ll be watching how Verizon prices the devices and accompanying data plans. He’s hoping to see the Kins cost $49 or be given free with a Verizon contract.

“By pricing it properly, they can give themselves some room to grow and differentiate themselves from Apple. If they put themselves in the same ballpark, I think they’re going to get hurt,” he said.

Both Kins are black with screens that respond to multiple finger gestures, similar to the “multitouch” technology on the iPhone. The shorter Kin One has a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the bottom, while the Kin Two has a full QWERTY keyboard that comes out from its side.

Both include Wi-Fi access and cameras capable of taking higher-resolution photos than most handsets: The Kin One will include a 5-megapixel camera, while the Kin Two will have an 8-megapixel camera. The Kin Two will also be capable of shooting HD-quality video.

Neither has a memory card slot; instead, the phones will upload content such as photos and videos to a Kin online storage service to free up memory.

Microsoft already does something similar with the Sidekick phones – it stores phone numbers, photos and other personal data on servers it runs. This resulted in an embarrassing incident late last year, when a server meltdown caused data to disappear from some users’ phones. T-Mobile temporarily stopped selling the phones, and some customers even sued.

Microsoft managed to restore most of the missing data, and gave $100 gift cards to affected customers.

The Kins’ arrival doesn’t signal the end for the Sidekick. T-Mobile, which owns the brand, said it will introduce new hardware and software and consumers should look for updates “in the months ahead.” But those new units will not use Danger’s software.

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April 20, 2010 Posted by | My Gadgets | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft announces Windows Phone 7, will ship by Christmas 2010


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gestures during the Windows Phone 7 presentation at the Mobile World congress in Barcelona on Monday.
APMicrosoft CEO Steve Ballmer gestures during the Windows Phone 7 presentation at the Mobile World congress in Barcelona on Monday.

Software giant Microsoft on Monday announced that its Windows phone 7 operating system for mobile phones will be available by Christmas season of 2010, as a whole new platform that incorporates social networking, music, video, photos and games to provide a rich, personalised user experience.

At the Mobile World Congress that opened here, Microsoft’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer unveiled the features that the Windows Phone 7 to be manufactured to specifications laid down by the company, will offer. The phones will support the capacitive touch interface now popular with users, and revolve around the concept of ‘hubs’ on-screen for people, pictures, office and mail applications, music and video.

Making the hubs the core of the navigation system, with dedicated keys for start, search and back — the most frequently used functions — and providing the ability to display configurable individual ‘tiles’ on the display screen for the people and applications that matter most to the individual user will differentiate, in Microsoft’s view, the Windows Phone 7 from the personal computer, and other phones.

Thus, a user can feature tiles for individuals, which would show connected activity for them on Facebook, Windows Live and so on. Full-featured synchronisation and integration capabilities with other Microsoft products such as Office, Outlook, the music player Zune and the gaming platform X-Box Live has been built into the new system. It is tightly knit with services such as Bing, the search engine for which the company is strengthening its database and map utility. The mobile browser for the phone is built on the desktop Internet Explorer code, aimed at making for a good web browsing experience with the vast majority of existing Websites.

A major area that Microsoft is focusing on is active collaboration with hardware manufacturers, to bring about consistency of performance. It has laid down minimum standards for the phones. At the same time, Mr. Ballmer said, it wants diversity and innovation in the form, feel and industrial design of the phones. In the case of developers, a rich kit is being provided to encourage development on the scale that was witnessed for operating systems for computers.

Highlighting the features of the Windows Phone 7, Joe Belfiore, Vice-President, Windows Phone Programme, said the phone was not a personal computer, was much more personal and lifestyle oriented, and the new platform had been designed with that fundamental philosophy in mind.

Microsoft hopes that the new platform will give it a solid footing in the fast-growing smartphone market, through a series of partnerships with hardware manufacturers including LG, Samsung, HTC, HP, Dell, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba, and technology companies such as Qualcomm. It has been working on similar collaborations with mobile operators for services. Andrew Lees, Senior Vice-President, Microsoft Mobile Communications Business, said over 1 billion phones were sold every year, and there was a massive shift to the smart phone segment.

March 19, 2010 Posted by | My Gadgets | , , | Leave a comment

Windows Phone 7 Interface: Microsoft Has Out-Appled Apple


16th Feb 2010

I’m sorry, Cupertino, but Microsoft has nailed it. Windows Phone 7 feels like an iPhone from the future. The UI has the simplicity and elegance of Apple’s industrial design, while the iPhone’s UI still feels like a colorized Palm Pilot.

That doesn’t mean that the Windows Phone 7’s user experience would be better than Apple’s. The two user interface concepts—data-centric vs function-centric—are very different, and the former is quite a radical departure from what people are used to.

And if you’re not familiar with Windows Phone 7, check out our hands on and the post where we explain everything about it.

With the iPhone, Apple put together an extremely simple modal interface that works, one that people of all ages and backgrounds understand right away: “This is a device that adopts different functions and gives me access to different kinds of information depending on the icon I click on.”

It’s pretty simple idea, which made it a raging success. In fact, that success is the reason why this model is Apple’s bet not only for mobile phones, but for the future of computing. It is also the reason why the Androids, Palms, and Blackberries of this world are following them.

Clean slate

Microsoft’s approach is completely different. Instead of becoming another me-too cellphone, like Android and the rest, the Windows Phone 7 team came up their own vision of what the cellphone should be. In the process, they have created a beautiful user interface in which the data is at the center of user interaction. Not the apps—specific functions—but the information itself. At some points, in fact, it feels like the information is the interface itself.

Out of the box, this information is organized into areas called hubs, which follow the user’s areas of interest. Accessible through live tiles in the home screen, the Me (the user), people, pictures and video, music, and games—plus the omnipresent search—hubs give views into several data sources, connecting and presenting them into an interweaved panoramic stream. These hubs dig heavily into many databases, both locally and into the cloud.

Rather than accessing an app to get contact information and make a call to a person, open another app to get her Twitter updates, and then another app to get her Facebook updates, and another for her latest mails to you, and yet another one to watch her photos, the Windows Phone’s people hub offers a seamless view into all of it, presented in a very simple and logical way. On a function-centric model like the iPhone, when the user thinks “I want to make a call”, he puts the device in “calling mode” by clicking on an app, selects a contact, and calls. When the user thinks “What’s up with John Smith?” he puts the device in Facebook or Twitter or Mail mode, and so on.

Microsoft has organized the hubs into panoramas, by stitching groups of information as columns of a single landscape screen—bigger than the phone’s display—that can be scrolled with your finger. The solution—tied together with minimalist interface aesthetics and animations that are inviting, elegant, and never superfluous—works great.

What about other applications?

Instinctively, I like Microsoft’s approach to organizing the core of our digital lives—people+social+multimedia+communication all merged into the hubs. I like it better than the “it’s a phone, it’s a mail program, it’s a browser, it’s an iPod” Apple approach. It’s less rigid than the iPhone or Android’s model, offering a richer experience, inviting to explore, and offering data from many points of view in a quick, clearly organized way. It also seems morehuman, and that’s certainly something Apple—or their followers—have to worry about.

Does that mean that function-centric models are worse? Like I said before, not necessarily. Especially because the information-centric panoramas don’t fit every single task people expect their iPhones to perform now. And when I say every single task, I really mean the two gazillion apps populating the Apple store. Microsoft could dress the hub experience in any way they want, but if their devices don’t offer a rich application market, they will fail the same way the current competition is failing against Apple.

Fortunately for Microsoft, the Windows Phone model is not only information-centric, but also function-centric. According to Joe Belfiore, gran jefe of the Microsoft’s Windows Phone Program, applications are not required to plug into the hub metaphor or the panorama user interface. When the development toolkit comes out in a month, it will encourage applications just like the ones you have in the iPhone today. In other words, Microsoft understands that one approach is as important as the other.

They are just hoping that their hubs would be a better, funner, more intuitive way to access and cultivate our digital lives, which is mainly what most consumers want to do nowadays. Looking at what they have shown today, I think they may be in the right track. But, like the Zune HD, it just may be too late.

Send an email to Asam Bangia, the author of this post, at akbangia@in.com

February 16, 2010 Posted by | My Gadgets | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment