Mobile

Microsoft knew Kin phones were terrible before launch, according to leaked videos

Just when you thought the sad, ugly story of Microsoft’s Kin phones was over, along comes some leaked internal testing videos that makes the whole tale even worse.

The videos, revealed by Wired via someone who worked on the Kin phones, show focus testers struggling with the phone’s interface and basic functionality like making calls. Judging from the timestamps, the testing occurred in December 2009, several months before Microsoft launched the phones and killed them after just 48 days on the market.

The Kin phones were Microsoft’s clumsy attempt at building a hip phone line for kids. They emphasized media and ubiquitous cloud storage. But they were clearly built for a different mobile era — one where phones like the Sidekick were cool. That’s not too surprising, since the Kin project came out of Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger, the creator of the Sidekick.

By the time they were released, the Kin phones were instantly overshadowed by the iPhone and Android smartphones. These videos show that Microsoft knew exactly how lackluster the Kin project was — but instead of calling it quits, the company tried to force them on consumers anyway.

While the testers were using prototype Kin phones, Wired’s source notes that little changed by the time they were released, aside from some performance improvement. But, just to be clear, the source said the Kin phones were still “a pile of shit” when they launched.

“The phone seems to be really slow in responding … and that makes it confused as to what it was doing,” one focus tester said. He went on to describe issues with the phone’s dialer — the phone was so unresponsive, it had a hard time registering a simple phone number.

Most damning was the following exchange with the same tester and a Microsoft representative:

Tester: “Just bringing up the camera, it’s useful for anything spontaneous … and for anything other than spontaneous, I carry a DSLR in the car.”

MS rep: “So it’ll work for you (laughs).”

Tester: “This phone would have gone back had I paid for it.”

Another tester laid out an argument that should have stopped the Kin project cold: “[There's] lots of room to improve I think … especially since I don’t have a touchphone right now, even so I think coming to a touchphone like this is kind of a turnoff.. I think the biggest frustration I have is whetherit’s the lag, or whether it’s my actual touch [causing problems]…”

These videos made me recall what I said back when the Kin project was cancelled, and it’s something that’s particularly pressing for Microsoft as it promotes Windows Phone 8: “Ultimately, the Kin’s failure is one Microsoft needs to remember: Instead of trying to force-feed a lackluster product to consumers, perhaps it should devote more time on creating something people actually want — like it did with the Xbox 360.”

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