Deceased Microsoft KIN: Another Look

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Small businesses, let's learn a lesson or three from the recent demise of the Microsoft ( MSFT) KIN.

Last week, Microsoft's smartphone spazness reached unheard of, almost Deepwater Horizon, depths. After just six weeks on the market -- six weeks -- the once-dominant software giant yanked its KIN ONE and TWO smartphones. The KIN faced an almost unanimous technorati dis: the phone, and the Windows Mobile 7 OS that it ran on, were smeared as clumsy, poorly designed and littered with bugs.

Having spent about a month actually deploying the KIN ONE in my small business, I saw it differently. And while there were plenty of KIN issues, the unit's clever design, blissfully small size, easy-to-use keyboard and ground-breaking mobile social-media integration made the $50 KIN a pretty darn easy way for a small shop to collaborate.

And here are the three big lessons to be learned.

Don't fear going small on the go: The KIN's great gift to small business was its small size. At a mere 3 inches in diameter and less than a half-inch thick, the KIN was essentially invisible compared with the Big Mac in your pocket that is the, say, Sprint ( S) EVO. And such a way tiny unit turned out to be way handy. I almost was never without the KIN. And a svelte tool in hand is worth two big ones lost in the digital bush.

If Microsoft showed one thing, it's that a smaller, relatively powerful smartphone can serve a big business niche. The rule now is, get as tiny as you can for your next smartphone, and you'll see a big gain in usage and efficiency.

Demand a lot from your next QWERTY: Spend three seconds with the KIN's easy-to-use, yet not ginormous, keyboard and you'll see just how bad traditional QWERTY data-entry interfaces have become. Sharp, maker of the KIN, deserves all the credit for re-rendering the classic, traditional keyboard interface into an idiot-proof data-entry system. And accept no less from the next business phone you buy. Make dang sure you can type on it clearly, quickly and comfortably. If Sharp can do it, so should everyone else.

Mobile social media packs big small-business game: Here's the KIN's biggest small-business lesson: Done right, Web 2.0, social-media tools can be mixed effectively with traditional mobile-communications standards. What the KIN tried to do -- albeit with limited results -- was to combine all forms of on-the-go chatter into a single portal: Real-time Facebook, Twitter, MySpace feeds were mixed with text messaging, phone messaging and mobile email.

Microsoft did not make this integration easy: The confusing Windows Mobile 7 layout made optimizing privacy settings basically impossible. And there was a truly awful integration with Microsoft Outlook. But once properly tuned, the KIN really was the work collaboration portal of choice in your pocket. And without question, small firms should seek out such a combined social/traditional media platform wherever they can. It has become the Web 2.0 to collaborate on the go.

Bottom line: Was the KIN flawed? Oh heavens, yes. Hard to configure, confusing to use, and it had a terrible phone for some nutty reason. But these flaws take nothing away from what Microsoft tried to do: make a small, portable combined communications tool that small teams can frictionlessly use to stay in touch.

And considering how tenacious and effective Redmond can be, when the KIN MACH 2, or whatever it will be called, makes a comeback, it will rock the small-business house.

You read it here first.

-- Written by Jonathan Blum in New York.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.

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