A video demo shown on the Kin site offers a scenario where you might drag a concert venue, a band’s MySpace page, a few photos you’ve taken, and a friend’s status update to the Spot and then send an email about going to show… but no one really works like that, and the Kin UI doesn’t make it any more logical. It’s actually a really cumbersome way to communicate — dragging one abstract thing towards another abstract thing doesn’t make more sense than deciding to send an email, typing a few addresses, and throwing some pictures or links into the message… it just doesn’t.
But the obtuseness of this user experience doesn’t stop with the Spot — it permeates the entire interface as though decisions about how things should work were made almost arbitrarily, without anyone stopping to test them in the real world.
John Gruber’s response to the Kin phones:
Why do these products even exist?
The Microsoft of today is a bureaucratic, inefficient behemoth throwing tons of cash around to do absolutely nothing remarkable or compelling. Their products are wasteful and underwhelming, and their marketing campaigns are puzzling at best.
Think of the resources that went into this new Kin platform, Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone Series 7, Zune, and Zune HD. Imagine what Microsoft could have done if, instead of fragmenting their product line, developer community, and internal resources with all of these, they instead focused on one great platform the way Apple has done with iPhone OS.
Clearly, there’s a huge effective vacancy in top leadership. There’s nobody running this company.
Sure, there are managers. Microsoft has a lot of managers, and under Ballmer, the hierarchy has deepened. Oh yeah, there’s Ballmer. But he seems only reactive to immediate and operational needs, lacking the creativity, foresight, insight, or focus to steer the company in any new or even coherent directions. He’s like a low-level operations manager who got promoted too far via the Peter Principle. He can keep the company going on its established path, but he misses every major new market opportunity, and when something important breaks, he doesn’t know what to do.1
The people making decisions seem more out of touch with reality than ever before. As Joel noted:
Now when you talk to anyone who has been at Microsoft for more than a week you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Which is OK, you can never understand geeks. But at Microsoft you can’t even understand the marketing people, and, what’s worse, they don’t seem to know that they’re speaking in their own special language, understood only to them.
Microsoft’s products from the last decade have felt like elaborate rides. Much of the operation of the OS is done via a large collection of wizards, with users (not customers) clicking Next, Next, Next so Microsoft can do whatever it wants or tells you that it needs to do. (Watch how non-geeks use their Windows computers. It’s sad.) It’s really Microsoft’s computer, not yours — you’re just the consumer along for the ride. Excuse me, the experience.
Combine this effect with the terrible, puzzling marketing campaigns — what are they trying to say? — and it’s no wonder that the products that do make it out of Microsoft are so often confusing, pointless, and inexplicable.
I fear the same may apply if Tim Cook inherits Apple’s CEO seat when Jobs leaves it. ↩︎