Microsoft Kin is User Centered Innovation at its Best

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Microsoft Kin by now. Furthermore you would probably have moaned about how this product lacked innovation and how it was a failure in strategy to introduce a “dumb phone” in a world dominated by smart phones.
Remember our last discussion on how “User Centered Innovation is Dead“? Well, you might like to know that the Microsoft Kin is a fine example of a product that went through a user centered innovation process. Any doubt that user centered innovation is dead?

I’m sure designers would find these (above & below) consumer segmentation images familiar. I prepared a few in my time. However, before we go on, do have a ponder if product segmentation strategies are still relevant in today’s market, especially when more and more consumers demand customization due to individual needs. Just how much customization is required these days?

Gizmodo has an interesting review of the phone cum interview with Aaron Woodman, director of the product management team, on the business strategy behind the Kin. Despite the Kin not being an innovation in a radical sense, I personally think this is the right strategic move for Microsoft.
As the world runs like mad to follow the iPhone way, Microsoft bucks the trend by going backwards and launching a phone that does not do much except bring a focus solution to a very narrow market, i.e. teenagers. It does looks like hard keys on a phone are a must for a texting teenager eh?
The reality is Microsoft understands the smart phone market is lead by a King, and is extremely crowded with Princes. So the only way for a new or small player (in terms of market share) can beat the market is in niche offerings. This is the advantage of using a user centered design process. It allows for the creation of a very optimized solution for a specific target market, thereby beating the competition with a superior product that excels in fixed set of criteria.
It is useful to note that at the end of the review, the author points out what is likely the main pit fall in a user-centered design/innovation process. Designers and businesses walk a slippery slope of over market segmentation. The example that Gizmodo uses of the car industry is a great one.
Over market segmentation leads to too many product SKUs (i.e. the car industry etc.), an un-manageable product range, and a confused consumer. That’s where propositions like the iPhone, with an expandable interface, has an advantage of one product doing a lot. Not to mention, the creation of a much simpler and easy to understand product lineup.
I’m looking forward to see how the Kin performs in the market, as despite all the research, the market is still the final arbiter. Let’s hope the Kin does well, because the other problem with a focused product is if you did not totally get your target market, your product will likely not fit anyone else.
Images via: Gizmondo

  • Alpe

    October 22, 2014 at 8:18 pm Reply

    its funny to see this post again in 2014 Praising kin strategy, looking at how badly kin failed and a fossil now. discontinued less than 2 years.

  • gwen

    June 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm Reply

    okay, so oddly during vacation i got bored and walked in a Verizon store, sat for 30 minutes going through a sense of study how to navigate, text message, using the touchscreen and just plain old fiddling…
    it is odd.
    you can’t and probably will not know without looking at an instruction book about how to call a phone number. – to point it out – there is a button with a phone icon at the bottom left. hit the button and then a dial pad will appear on the touchscreen.
    but… the question needs to be ask, do you even need that? It is weird that Microsoft solely uses bing for all your searches and if you did search for a place like a restaurant it will give you an “picture icon” option to call the place.
    and the “black hole” the green dote at the bottom center is nice, basically anything you are viewing on the web gets saved, just a prettier version of android bookmarks.
    another weirdness/uniqueness –
    it is heavy picture driven. meaning you don’t really see a list of text (names, places, etc) you see a list of pictures of your contacts, or even the green dote is the same – the bookmarks are thumbnails of what you saved not text of the website names. This will imply that the younger generation is a heavy picture/iconography orientation verses the older generation’s text/typography orientation.
    the CMF – it feels cheap, the buttons had the paint stamp of the lettering, so it will rub off later. they feel either too big or just too spaced out for the younger gen. I think this phone in its physicality fits the older demographics. I don’t think the teenagers will care, since they are the ones convincing their parents to buy it. The bubbly thick glass like plastic is unique only i can see potentially the casing getting that cloudy looking scratch markings after a while around the edges of the touchscreen.
    in terms of a business strategy, that is debatable, it is hard, cause really it is the opposite of most design processes for phone. usually current phone has a nice CMF/form to the hardware, while the GUI/software stinks. The Kin is the complete opposite, nice and unique software but boring cheap hardware.

  • Rene Lee

    May 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm Reply

    Although I like the idea of listening to users for inspiration when it comes to designing, I believe that it is ultimately the designer’s job to design what’s right for them, even if it may not agree verbatim with what users are saying.
    It’s like good parenting. Just because the child wants chocolate doesn’t mean that parents should give it to him. The parent should know what’s really good for the child, and also find a way to convince them that it’s what they really need.
    Over-segmentation reminds me of Egyptian or Greek mythology and polytheism in general. There used to be a god for everything. But ultimately monotheism is the dominant today, although lacks the specificity of polytheism.
    I’m really interested in how Kin performs in the market.

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