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Microsoft's Kin: What it is--and isn't

As CNET predicted, Microsoft is ready to go with two Verizon phones aimed at always-connected "lifecasters." Here's a look at what we learned Monday.

SAN FRANCISCO--The fact that Microsoft and Verizon picked a nightclub to launch the Kin tells you a lot about their target market.

Browser in use on the Kin One. James Martin/CNET

The short and squat Kin One and the wider-screened Kin Two are two shapes for the same idea--the mobile phone for those who want to broadcast their every thought, sight, and sound--"lifecasters," as Microsoft's Robbie Bach called them. Although many phones have Facebook or Twitter applications, social networking is at the heart of the Kin. Sharing has its own dedicated green button and is at the center of the Kin experience.

The target demographic is men and women between 15 and 30, said Bach, who runs Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices unit. The two companies said the phones would launch next month, but didn't say exactly when during the month, nor would either company talk at all about pricing.

Aside from their shape, the two devices are very similar. Both are touch-screen sliders running the same software. The Kin Two has a better camera (8 megapixels versus 5MP), double the memory (8GB versus 4GB), and a bigger screen.

Now playing: Watch this: With new phone, Microsoft, Verizon become Kin

These aren't a run at the iPhone. Bach stressed that Microsoft's general smartphone play is the Windows Phone 7 operating system, which will start showing up on devices this fall. In fact, there's not even an app store for Kin users to go to, although Microsoft and Verizon can push updates or add-on programs themselves over the air.

There are several key things built into the Kin, including the first phone implementation of the Zune service. The phones can play Zune video and music that is loaded onto the device from a PC, and Kin owners can also stream music over the air while they're on the go.

The phone's Web browser is an upgraded version of the one found on Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, adding support for pinch and zoom navigation, among other features. Search--local, Web, and on the device--is built-in and has its own dedicated button.

A companion Kin Studio Web site lets users view their content, including a time-line view, or see photos on a Bing Map (all photos are geotagged).

One thing I found interesting is the decision not to include an instant-messaging application on the Kin devices. When the original Sidekick debuted, one of its key selling points was the fact that it could do IM better than any other device on the market. Of course, as Microsoft and Verizon point out, texting wasn't nearly as popular back then, and there was no such thing as Twitter.

The devices carry the Kin brand most prominently, with text noting that the phones are a collaboration among Microsoft's Windows Phone group, Verizon, and Sharp, the Japanese company that is manufacturing the devices.

The Kin models will also be made available outside the U.S. in several countries by Vodafone.

I had a chance to talk with top executives from Verizon and Microsoft after the event and I'll have a post up shortly. For those who can't wait: The executives are well aware of the Apple iPhone and still see a market for the Kin. Plus, neither of them is buying Palm. But there's much more, so check out that post as well.

Microsoft Kin Two
The Kin Two, closed and open, from Microsoft's product site. Microsoft