Microsoft Launches Kin Phone

The average person on Facebook has 130 friends, but most of them aren’t really “friends” at all.

That’s the premise of a campaign from Microsoft that introduces its Kin phone, which is pitched as a device designed specifically “for people who are actively navigating their social lives.” Kin, a long-awaited touchscreen mobile device that was code-named “Pink,” was based on feedback from more than 50,000 consumers in the target twentysomething age range. Like some other devices, notably Motorola’s Cliq TX with Motoblur, Kin pools several social media streams, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Windows Live. But unlike Motoblur, Kin lets consumers program their phone so their closest friends’ updates rise to the top, a feature Microsoft calls “The Loop.”

An online and TV campaign, from agencytwofifteen (formerly T.A.G), San Francisco, breaking this week called “The Social Media Sociologist,” will focus on that feature by homing in on one consumer: Rosa Salazar, a 24 year-old aspiring comedian from Brooklyn. Camera crews have and will continue to follow Salazar around, as she explores how she really relates to her 700-plus Facebook friends. (View the spot here.)

“We’re going to go find out if her friends are really her friends. We started digging into it asking ‘What about this person? What about that person?'” said Todd Peters, corporate vp of mobile communications at Microsoft. For instance, in one of the ads (which will appear in longer form online), Microsoft explores whether it’s a good idea for Salazar to be friends with her ex-boyfriend. “He was kind a voyeur,” said Peters. “He was hanging around her site. He was following her, not in a creepy way, but he was following her.”

Peters said the work is done tongue-in-cheek. Though it’s in cinema verité/reality TV style, it wasn’t designed to be weighty. Said Peters: “We’re trying to hold a mirror up to society for this generation that’s so socially connected in a way that hasn’t been done before.” 

In future installments, Salazar will have real-life meetings with celeb “friends” including Andy Samberg and a yet-unnamed band.

Although the campaign focuses on the “best friends” feature, the Kin One and Kin Two models have other new innovations, including a 6- and 8 megapixel camera, respectively, and a “spot” that lets users point to things they like on the screen, bundle it and then send it off to a group of friends. (The bundle, for example, could include information on that evening’s get-together including a map and a review.) Unlike past Microsoft interfaces, though, it’s largely devoid of plugs for most other Microsoft products. There’s no branding of the Internet Explorer Web browser, even though the phone includes a Zune MP3 player, which is labeled.

Past mobile products from Microsoft have also employed the PC-based model of using a branded operating system. But while Kin, which is made in concert with Sharp Electronics and will be available exclusively through Verizon, is based on a version of Windows Mobile, it isn’t identified that way.

The approach shows that, instead of using mobile as a Trojan horse to promote other Microsoft products, the focus is on utility. Peters, who is credited with developing the “Easy” button for Staples, noted that the intention is to gain affinity in a category where devices achieve a strong emotional connection. Hence the name, created by Lexicon Branding. “It’s like a family member,” Peters said regarding the way GenYers view their cell phones. “It’s embedded with emotional value.”

Since the launch of Microsoft Mobile 7 is set for later this year, Kin, whose launch has been the subject of blog speculation for months, will be watched closely. According to comScore, Microsoft claimed 15.1 percent of the smartphone market as of February 2010, a 4 percent drop from the same period in 2009. (Research in Motion and Apple have 42.1 percent and 25.4 percent of the market, respectively.)

Will Kin help turn things around? Iain Gillott, founder and president of iGR, said that he didn’t see how the phone is appreciably different from Cliq. “The [Cliq with] Motoblur had all that and it wasn’t the must-have,” he said. “My 15 year-old daughter is a big Facebook user and she looked at it and said ‘What’s the point?'”