SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft Corp. unveiled two cell phones Monday that are meant for social-networking-savvy teens and 20-somethings in an attempt to revitalize its mobile business and regain ground on iPhones and BlackBerrys.
Microsoft said its new touch-screen phones – a short, square-shaped handset called Kin One and a longer, more rectangular version called Kin Two – will be sold exclusively in the U.S. by Verizon Wireless. They are being made by Sharp Corp., which has produced Sidekick cell phones, whose software comes from Microsoft-owned Danger Inc.
In the past, Microsoft has mostly sold its mobile software to other companies to put it on phones they make. This will be the case with its recently announced Windows Phone 7 Series software, which is expected to be on handsets by the holidays. The Kin phones mark a departure, as Microsoft has sway over the creation of their software and hardware.
Verizon said it will start selling the Kin phones online in early May and in stores shortly thereafter.
Microsoft needs help in the cell phone market. Its software has been losing share while Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which makes the Android operating software, have gained. Microsoft software ran on 13.1 percent of smart phones sold in the U.S. last year, according to research firm In-Stat. That put Microsoft in third after BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple.
Unlike most popular smart phones, the Kins won’t have access to application stores that let customers download add-on software programs. Roz Ho, leader of the Microsoft team behind the Kin, said her team studied consumer habits and then built the activities they used most often into the Kin phones.
For instance, in a demo for the Associated Press, the Kin’s home screen showed a live stream of updates to social networks and Web sites that can be clicked on and responded to. Users can send photos and other material to people by dragging it onto a little circle at the bottom of the screen. A finger swipe across the screen can then bring up a page with applications such as photos and music.
The music player will be based on Microsoft’s Zune software, which also will be incorporated into the Windows Phone 7 handsets that multiple manufacturers will be able to use.
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