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How Killing the Kin Could Destroy Apple

One of my Twitter friends suggested this title to me as a joke, but I thought it would be fun to take this as a premise and run with it. Be aware I’m not making a prediction here; I’m just building from a title that I thought was fun and suggesting an unexpected result.

The Kin was an interesting idea from Microsoft that should have never actually come from Microsoft. It was well marketed, but the hardware didn’t show well, and it felt like an adult’s concept of what a young adult should want. In other words, it felt like it was in the same class as a husband thinking a vacuum cleaner is something their wife would want for Christmas, and as logical as that might seem to some, it seldom ends well and didn’t in this case either.

The lesson Microsoft seemed to learn the hard way is that when phone OEMs are asking you to give them more latitude with your phone OS, and you say no, then do something for yourself that sounds a lot like what they were asking, they will likely abandon your platform. Microsoft did something similar with the Zune and effectively killed PlaysForSure, handing uncontested control of the MP3 market to Apple. The Kin helped make smartphones a two-way fight between Google and Apple. So, regardless of how good a social-networking phone idea might look, any phone from Microsoft was a bad idea.

Now, I’ll bet many of you can see how reversing the Kin decision might hurt Google, but how could it destroy Apple?

Focused Microsoft

Historically, Microsoft does best against Apple when it’s focused. Windows Vista showcased an unfocused Microsoft, and Apple nearly doubled its market share during the Vista years as a result. Under Windows 7, it appears a much more focused Microsoft took much of that share back. In the 90s, when Microsoft stopped being distracted by the battle with OS/2 and IBM and instead focused on Windows 9x and Office, it almost put Apple out of business. Granted, it required Steve Jobs be out of Apple, which is likely a requirement in this case as well, but the elimination of the Kin and the prior elimination of the entertainment and hardware unit at Microsoft put the “f” back in focus at Microsoft, and the concentric circles on Apple.

The fact that Microsoft got to the Kin error in two months, rather than covering it up for the typical two to three years while trying to argue the falling device was successful, suggests a much more agile Microsoft than we have seen for years.

Protecting Google

However, the real impact on Apple may not come from Microsoft at all. Google had been playing around with hardware as well with the Nexus One, and had Google come out with more hardware products, it would have undoubtedly crippled the adoption of its own tablet and smartphone offerings. Google typically ignores Microsoft’s mistakes until it remakes them, but that is likely because they don’t believe in studying history there. In this instance, the failure happened in real time, and this will be a hard lesson to miss (though I have little doubt there are folks at Google who will work really hard to do just that) and the result could be avoiding a mistake that otherwise would have helped Apple a lot, and prevented the real competition that now will come both sooner, and more aggressively.

The Power of Leverage

Both Google and Apple have models that access a vastly larger number of resources than even the most powerful Apple that has ever existed can bring to market alone. Part of the reason Apple wins is that a lack of focus has kept both Microsoft and Google from bringing their entire strength to bear on the problem. Eliminating the Kin and focusing both vendors back on using the leverage of their combined OEMs and partners (the Cisco Tablet is an example) on the market could over match Apple and force the company into a sliding decline.

Steve Jobs doesn’t like to lose, and seeing this coming, may decide to bail out rather than ride the company down, which should create a cascading failure at Apple and set the stage for that company’s destruction.

Wrapping Up: War Gaming

What we just did is kind of War Gaming Light. It isn’t a prediction, it is a set of events that could create the outcome we are analyzing. If this were a real exercise, rather than just for fun, we would now go back and look at each of the events, figure out how likely the series was, and determine whether the outcome was truly likely. I’m thinking not so much. I do think it is clear that Microsoft is stronger without the Kin, I’m not convinced that Google learns from anything but its own mistakes, and I doubt Steve Jobs is going anyplace soon for any reason other than failing health. And his health appears OK at the moment.

This does, however, point to a recurring case of corporate Alzheimer’s disease with a lot of companies. Namely, they seem to forget that it is never wise to go into competition with your customers. Those customers eventually find someone else to partner with, and the Kin was likely of greater benefit to Google and Apple that it ever could be to Microsoft as a result.

So, while it is extremely doubtful that eliminating the Kin will destroy Apple, decisions like this could save Microsoft.