Kin phone designed for 'digital natives'

April 12, 2010 7:04:59 PM PDT
My 16-year-old daughter is what they call a 'digital native.' She's one of those kids who swapped her pacifier for a digital mouse and never looked back. She thinks I'm a Luddite, and adopts an air of superiority whenever we discuss something technical. If I want to know about her life, I gain insight by browsing her social networking pages. Then, maybe, we discuss it at the dinner table.

She will express bliss, tonight, when she learns about the debut of a new telephone aimed at people just like her. Microsoft's Kin I and Kin II take dead-aim at the digital natives by making social networking easier than ever, or so the company says.

"This generation feels cut-off from the world when not in close touch with friends, and this is the next layer," explained Derek Synder, the project's senior manager. Microsoft took a bet on the Kin two years ago, when only 8 percent of the population used social networking sites. Since then, the percentage has boomed to 25 percent, with no let-up in sight, and now Snyder looks like a genius. Verizon will begin selling the units next month for an unannounced price.

The new phone boasts a five megapixel still camera, and high definition video in its larger model. But the real attraction, say users, lies in its ease of use. Rather than copying, uploading, and sending material to individual sites like Facebook or MySpace, the new phones speak to all of those sites, delivering the content simultaneously.

"It's not an experience you couldn't do with other devices. It's just that Microsoft has found a way to do it in an appealing form factor," observed Sean Hollister, who will review the phones for Endgadget. "It's nothing fundamentally new, here."

'Experience' is a word they use quite a lot. The new phones organize friends, and permanently store all content (aka experiences) on a Microsoft web site called 'The Studio.' "That's not like Big Brother, is it?" we asked Derek Snyder.

"No. It's secure," he answered.

But, if a user takes a photograph or video (aka experience), the phone notes and stamps the time and place. In practice, a die-hard, serious, digital native could store his entire life experiences hour-by-hour, second-by-second, like a digital log.

"People told us they want a deeply connected social experience," said Ali Heron, who worked on the design team. Digitally speaking, Ms. Heron is a woman who has drunk the social networking Kool-aid, with more than 600 friends on Facebook, alone. "I can keep in touch with friends from high school, college, grad school, family, co-workers, who had a baby, who's getting married, who went to an awesome bar, where is that awesome bar..."

"All that?"

"Um hum."

"There's that experience word, again," I said. "What's with that?"

"What word would you prefer?" she quipped.

"How about 'use'. As in, I use my phone."

"Maybe you need to try experiencing your phone, sometime," she countered. "Here, let me show you." Ali snapped a picture of me, uploaded it through the Kin's 'spot', put it on her 'studio,' and uploaded my photo to Facebook. Moments later, a woman came running up, flashing my picture on her phone. "Oh look!!! That's you!!"

"It is," I said. The woman was one of Ali's Facebook friends, and a co-worker. "You're in my loop!"

"So now what do we do? Shake hands?"

"It's up to us!" exclaimed the friend.

"Is it better to loop with me, or interact with me?"

"I'll tell you in five minutes," said the friend.

Unfortunately, our relationship did not last that long. But here's the good news. Our interaction will show up on my daughter's Facebook page, which means that at the dinner table, tonight, we will have something to talk about.

Or, excuse me...experience.


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