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Microsoft launches Kin phones

Microsoft Corp launched two new phones aimed at young people on Monday, marking a fresh assault on the low end of the growing smartphone market, where BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd and Apple Inc now dominate.

The software company’s first foray into designing its own phones comes six months before it rolls out its new Windows software for phones made by handset makers HTC Corp, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and others, which should be a more direct challenge to Apple’s iPhone and Google Inc’s Android phones.

“Kin is an interesting attempt to target the 15 to 25 market,” said Ross Rubin, consumer electronics and wireless industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group.

Success will depend heavily on the pricing of data plans, said Rubin, which is not expected for a few more weeks. Microsoft did not say how much the phones would sell for.

“But even if the device does not turn out to be successful, Microsoft is introducing some concepts that might be useful,” said Rubin.

The Kin One and Kin Two, as they are being branded, are made by Japan’s Sharp Corp and will be sold by Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

The new phones — available in the United States in May and Europe in the autumn — focus on combining feeds from Facebook, MySpace and Twitter onto the homescreen, and allow users to set up networks of friends to share photos, weblinks and so on.

Both of the new Kin phones have a touch screen, slide-out keyboard and camera. Kin One is smaller, designed to be used with only one hand, while Kin Two has a larger screen and keyboard, more memory and can record high-definition video.

They incorporate Microsoft’s Zune digital music player and FM radio. Almost everything on the phone is stored by Microsoft in remote servers and accessible via the Internet from any Web browser via an online application called Kin Studio.

Kin automatically backs up text messages, call history, photos, videos and contacts, in an attempt to soothe fears of data loss. Last October, users of Microsoft’s Sidekick phones temporarily lost data due to a server failure.

Microsoft broke with tradition by working with only one manufacturer on the phone, but stressed that the Kin is consistent with its broader Windows Phone 7 strategy, which will put a new generation of smartphones on the market later this year.

“This isn’t a Microsoft product,” said Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices unit, at the Kin launch event in San Francisco. “Sharp is not just the manufacturer, they sell the phones to Vodafone, not Microsoft. This is a very traditional model, it’s just that we were more involved in the design and the hardware with Sharp.”

Microsoft has traditionally licensed its Windows phone software to a wide range of handset makers, allowing them to control the user experience.

Launching Windows Phone 7 in February, Microsoft admitted that approach had led to some loss of consistency across models, which suffered in comparison with Apple’s minutely designed iPhone.

Microsoft plans to work more closely with handset makers, but Bach repeated that it still had no plans to manufacture its own phones.

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Microsoft ‘Pink’ Phone Details Leaked

The not-much-ballyhooed smartphones from Microsoft, named The Turtle and Pure, have had a few leaks lately, perhaps as a method of drumming up interest in products that seem behind the times. Yesterday,Microsoft Pink? (Gizmodo Photo) marketing materials of The Turtle were disseminated into the blogosphere and today, the first-ever photographs of Pure, and some specs for both phones, made it onto Gizmodo.

The blurry shots of Pure reveal a pretty generic slider precisely like the one that appeared in the Verizon ad. The UI — which Gizmodo claims is “distinctly not Windows 7” — has touchable squares for music, e-mail and RSS; uses Zune-esque typography; and is apparently a social networking hub that will feature all the connections to popular sites like Facebook and Twitter.

It’s a little odd, because better photos were leaked a few months ago. But the devices are still works in progress.

Pure reminds me of a sleeker version of AT&T’s Tilt, and The Turtle comes off like a blobby Palm Pre.

Gizmodo also nabbed a few specs for the phones, including:

The Turtle’s screen is 320 by 240, while the Pure’s is 480 by 320
Turtle and Pure codenames are used in the firmware, but do not indicate the actual product names
The OS is based on Windows CE, like the Zune and Windows Phone 7
The carrier is Verizon
Microsoft’s Pink phones were touted as iPhone Killers, much like every single release of every single smartphone ever. “Why the initial rumors about Pink had such lofty hopes is anybody’s guess, but it’s laughable to consider either of these simple sliders as iPhone killers now,” my colleague Jared Newman wrote. I couldn’t agree more. I find nothing exciting about either phone, and these latest leaks do zilch to pique further interest.

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MetroPCS launches Motorola MOTO VE440

Today MetroPCS launched a special edition Motorola MOTO VE440 phone that sports Mister Cartoon rear panels.
Motorola ve440 mistercartoon
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Microsoft plans to present new Mobile Windows in February

Microsoft Corp. plans to unveil its new mobile-phone operating system next month, a bid to reverse market share losses to Google Inc. and Apple Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter, the Bloomberg reports.

The company may use the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to demonstrate the new software, called Windows Mobile 7, said the person, who didn’t want to be identified because the plans are confidential. The decision isn’t final, the person said.

Microsoft is counting on the software to reignite enthusiasm for Windows Mobile among consumers and phone makers. The last update — Windows Mobile 6.5, which came out in October — didn’t do enough to advance the software, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft.

“The sooner they show Windows Mobile 7, the better,” he said. “The longer Microsoft delays and the longer they are perceived as having a mobile operating system that just doesn’t look modern, the less consumer interest there will be and handset manufacturers will look at other options.”

Debbie Anderson, a spokeswoman for Redmond, Washington- based Microsoft, declined to comment on the timing of an announcement. “We’re always working on future versions and have nothing new to announce,” she said.

‘Almost Nothing’

Microsoft has said “almost nothing” about Windows Mobile 7, Rosoff said. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said a year ago that the program would come out in 2010. Microsoft doesn’t produce its own phone, just an operating system for partners to use.

Windows Mobile has lost market share to Apple’s iPhone, Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry and models that use Google’s Android software, according to Stamford, Connecticut- based Gartner Inc. Android is a freely available operating system used by Motorola Inc., HTC Corp. and other manufacturers. Google, based in Mountain View, California, introduced its own phone based on the software this month.

Android is “a particular threat” to win over handset makers looking to ditch the Windows software, Rosoff said.

Microsoft rose 61 cents to $30.96 yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares climbed 57 percent last year.

Microsoft’s share of the smartphone operating-system market shrank to 7.9 percent in the third quarter, compared with 11 percent in the year-earlier period, according to Gartner.

Market Share

Research In Motion’s share rose to 21 percent from 16 percent, while Apple increased to 17 percent from 13 percent. Android had 3.5 percent of the market in the quarter, up from none a year earlier.

Microsoft’s next mobile operating system “really does move the bar forward, not in an evolutionary way from where we are today, but it’s something that feels, looks, acts and performs completely different,” Robbie Bach, a Microsoft president who oversees the mobile business, told analysts at the Consumer Electronics Show this month.

The company needs it, Rosoff said.

“Their lack of execution so far is very troubling,” he said. “It’s always possible to turn it around with a great product, particularly in the mobile space because people buy new handsets every two years. But nothing about their execution so far gives me any confidence that will happen.”

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