Technologizer

Let’s Hope Microsoft’s Kindle Fire Competitor–Assuming It Exists–Isn’t a Kin

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Bill Gates demonstrates a Tablet PC to attendees of the Newspaper Association of America's conference on April 29. 2003

We still don’t know what Microsoft is going to announce tomorrow at its event, shrouded in carefully-orchestrated mystery, in Los Angeles. (I’ll be there to provide live coverage here on TIME.com, and I hope you’ll join me.)

Still, the tech blogosphere seems to be settling on a pretty clear picture of what Microsoft might be getting ready to unveil. Everyone’s talking about a Microsoft tablet designed to compete more with Amazon’s Kindle Fire than with Apple’s iPad.  They’re thinking it would include book content from Barnes & Noble, which recently let Microsoft invest in its Nook business. They’re assuming it would have some sort of Xbox-related features. The Verge’s Tom Warren makes an educated guess that Barnes & Noble might be involved; TechCrunch’s Peter Ha says he’s heard that the tablet is real and the Barnes & Noble and Xbox angles are legit.

I have no inside info, but this theoretical Kindle Fire competitor–let’s call it the Micronook–has a certain degree of logic to it. If Microsoft is indeed announcing a tablet which will carry its own brand, the timing feels a bit early for a full-blown Windows 8 model. If the company instead releases something with a smallish screen, running something other than full-blown Windows 8, it might avoid competing quite as directly with all the companies which it hopes will build and sell Windows 8 tablets. Such a tablet would also be less likely to be instantly crushed by the iPad juggernaut. And it’s unlike Microsoft to ignore pretty much any category of technology product that seems to have any critical mass at all.

The Verge’s Warren wonders whether Microsoft honcho Andy Lees is heading up the Micronook effort, and reminds us that Lees was in charge of Kin, the smartphones which Microsoft both introduced and killed in mid-2010. It’s been a while since I’ve thought of Kin, but hearing its name again made me think of a Kin-like worst-case scenario for a Kindle Fire-type Microsoft tablet, if it exists.

The Kin phones were rushed out a few months before the first Windows phone handsets hit the market, a decision which might have been justifiable if they’d been sensational. But in most respects that mattered, they were horrible–poorly conceived, incomplete products that didn’t stand a chance. They seemed to exist purely because Microsoft was unable to say no to a potential market, and wasn’t capable of entering it with something that was the least bit competitive.

Clearly, Microsoft would have been better off killing Kin before it ever hit the market and focusing on getting the far superior Windows Phone off to a strong start. Which is why, in retrospect, the company’s startling decision to kill Kin so quickly made more sense than forging ahead with it would have.

If Micronook exists, and is something other than a straightforward Windows 8 tablet, and gets released before straightforward Windows tablets, it runs the risk of being the new Kin: an irrelevant placeholder. I’m not saying that’s the likely scenario; in fact, it seems like it should be possible for Microsoft to build a decent 7″ tablet using technologies and services which it controls. But I do worry.

More thoughts once Microsoft holds its event tomorrow afternoon. The company is manufacturing suspense in a way I can’t remember it ever doing before; here’s hoping the news, whatever it may be, is worthy of the build-up.

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