Microsoft introduces the Kin social phone

Verizon will be the exclusive US carrier; Vodafone will sell the phones in Europe

Hoping to lure the Facebook and Twitter crowds, Microsoft introduced its Kin mobile phones Monday.

With hardware built by Sharp, the Kin will come in two models: the Kin One, and a wider, more powerful model called Kin Two. The devices will be sold exclusively in the U.S. by Verizon, starting next month. In Europe, Vodafone will be the exclusive provider, starting around October.

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Speaking at a San Francisco launch event Monday, Microsoft's Robbie Bach billed the devices as smartphones designed for social-networking and video-obsessed users. "We knew we had created something very special for people when we saw the reactions to people from our prototype," said Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices Division.

Both versions of the phone come with a slide-out keyboard, but the Kin Two has a wider keyboard, more memory and a better camera that can shoot high-resolution video. The Kin One comes with a 5-megapixel camera and the Kin 2 with an 8-megapixel camera.

Previously known by its code-name, Project Pink, Kin is based on a rewritten version of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS that includes a modified kernel and a new user interface, according to Eric Hermelee, a marketing director with Microsoft's Mobile Division. That means that Windows Phone applications won't be able to run on Kin without some modification.

Microsoft isn't presently saying how -- or even if -- third-party developers would deliver applications to this Windows Phone OS for Kin. The company has not released a third-party software development kit for Kin.

The Kin puts people first, and in demos shown by Microsoft Monday, the phone's user interface looked like a series of photos of friends.

Looking to leverage its software expertise, Microsoft is adding a number of features designed to help the phones integrate with social media Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The Kin's homepage can weave together different social media feeds and using a feature called Kin Spot, users can zoom in on specific people in their networks.

It's not clear when popular instant messaging applications such as AOL Instant Messenger will run on the phone, however.

Kin Spot works as a kind of clipboard for the phone -- a user can drag icons representing images or videos into the spot, and then drag in icons representing friends to the same place. After that, one click sends the pictures and videos to all of the users, or posts them to Facebook.

Another feature, called Kin Studio, will give users a simple way to organize their photos, text messages and data, in what Microsoft calls a "personalized digital journal," and then store all of this information online.

Studio is an online service that is integrated with the phone. It gives the user an automatic data backup, as well as a way to access and organize photos and data using a PC's Web browser.

Kin will also be integrated with Microsoft's Zune digital media marketplace.

Microsoft and Verizon are not saying what the first Kin devices will cost when they are released next month.

Vodafone will initially sell the devices in Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.

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