Microsoft has announced the release of a new mobile phone designed to capture the hearts, minds and standing orders of ‘younger, chattier, socially switched-on’ users.
Developed in conjunction with former Manchester United sponsor Sharp, the brand is to be known as KIN, and represents a range of mobile phones – currently dubbed KIN One and KIN Two – the former in particular a pretty neat-looking device somewhere between a Palm Pre and the chubby widescreen variety of iPod Nano.
It’s not a Blackberry, neither is it an Android-a-like, and it’s definitely, categorically not an iPhone challenger. With social media feed functionality placing it in an interesting limbo between smartphone and old-fashioned ‘dumb phone’, the KIN may, in fact, be more of a long-term stepping stone for Microsoft in converting a wider audience to the upcoming mobile Windows 7 OS.
Check the KIN website: it’s all very ‘youth’ (and not even in a ‘this is what all the kids are doing these days, isn’t it everyone?’ Gap style), informative, pretty and dynamic…nice, and contains only the tiniest nods to Microsoft…phew.
Does this mean Microsoft has broken free from its infamous track-record of dad-dancing that has confirmed the world’s third largest company as one of its dorkiest? Of course not, as confirmed by the following shot of Microsoft exec Robbie Bach from the KIN’s press launch last week – probably not the Generation Y shot in the arm the product required, given its offering and audience.
So why do Microsoft rule the uncool, and how do they manage to make things so effortlessly undesirable?
The much-ridiculed Window 7 Launch Party video holds one or two clues…
If you never saw this, please watch as much as is humanly possible of the video above (I’d say about 12 seconds) and then have a look at the Remix version on this ‘tribute’ site, which, through the tiniest addition has produced something eminently more watchable.
So why will people line up to shoot Microsoft down for this? Is it because the original video is so replete with cheese, yet so bereft of irony? Is it because of the public’s distaste for celebrating what is effectively a stress-purchase, in this case designed to solve the problems created by Microsoft Vista, W7′s predecessor? Or is it simply that the idea of hosting a party to launch a computer operating system is just incredibly bizarre?
Go back a little further to Microsoft’s ‘I’m a PC’ campaign. This was a response to Apple’s ongoing advertising creative which pitched a ‘typical’ PC user against a Macophile. In the US this campaign included Justin Long (of Dodgeball and Die Hard 4.0) as ‘the Mac’, but UK consumers will be more familiar with the localisation featuring Mitchell and Webb.
Whilst a comedic exercise in stereotypes – termed as bullying from certain pro-PC quarters – ultimately, Apple’s campaign was grounded in the functional versus the inspirational: on the whole people have to use PCs, but choose to own a Mac. If this isn’t an indicator of brand love, then I’m not sure what is.
Were Pharrell Williams’ claims that he’s a PC enough to turn the heads of unbelievers? What about when they see him on his iPhone? Did Eva Longoria’s endorsement make PCs any sexier? Tough to say, especially when she was subsequently captured at the airport on her MacBook. Isn’t this indicative of the difference between obligation and aspiration?
Whatever way you look at it, in the constantly-updating, virtually-democratised world of the web, where transparency is a badge of honour, there’s very little room for the clumsy manufacture of cool. And even if you did want to – Microsoft boffins, take note – there’s a formula you need to apply…
Generated through research conducted between InSites Consulting and MTV Belgium amongst 13-29 year-olds, the above represents the key factors (at an official ratio of 22% originality, 23% popularity and 55% attractiveness) that contribute to make a brand, product or service ‘cool’.
The same study demonstrated that 73% of all brand loyalty is about the coolness of the brand, with young people today buying twice as many cool brands than uncool brands, while the future purchase intention of these brands is no less than three times as high. It doesn’t really matter whether this is right/wrong/lowlands-specific, but there’s little argument in the study’s assertion that trying to be cool is the worst thing you can ever do. Ever.
A tragic confirmation of this is Microsoft (honestly, I don’t actually dislike the company, there’s just so much cannon fodder) and its foray into the digital music market…the ill-fated Zune. They have the set-up, the know-how, and the can-do attitude, but this couldn’t save Microsoft from failing on the Originality, Popularity or Attractiveness fronts, in the face of Apple’s iPod. In fact, in what is probably my favourite comedy product on the internet, you can even buy what has been termed the ultimate Apple anti-theft device, the ‘Hide-a-Pod’ - a Zune-disguise for your iPod.
Who knows what the fate holds for Microsoft’s latest mobile offering, but unless they learn the lessons from past product launches, there’s a chance it could be KIN useless.
By Jonathan Izzard on April 19th, 2010