Ina Fried

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T-Mobile Killing Off Microsoft’s Danger Servers Ahead of Android-based Sidekicks

One of the first smartphones is headed for an unceremonious farewell.

T-Mobile announced on Monday that it plans to kill off the Microsoft Danger service that powers the current generation of Sidekick devices as it prepares to transition that brand to a series of new Android-based models. T-Mobile sold the first black and white Sidekicks back in 2002 and has been selling various evolutions of the youth-oriented mobile until as recently as last year.

After May 31, though, the Danger service will be unavailable. While not shocking, the move means that those with existing Sidekicks will soon have devices that not only are shaped like a bar of soap, but have about as much smartphone capability as a wedge of Irish Spring.

You see, the Sidekick wasn’t just a smartphone, but it was a cloud powered one at that. As a result, nearly all of the device’s capabilities require a connection to Microsoft’s servers (Microsoft bought Danger back in 2008). That means that once the servers are shut down, the phones will only be able to make calls and send and receive text messages.

T-Mobile said it will provide various unspecified offers ahead of that date to help current Sidekick owners move to a new device. It will also offer Web tools on its Web Site to allow customers to export contacts, photos, calendar info and other data from the Danger service.

“We’re working with our Sidekick customers to help make that transition easy,” spokesman Tom Harlin told Mobilized.

The demise of the Danger-based Sidekick line has been coming for some time. Its fate was probably sealed after a massive outage in the fall of 2009 that left many users without access to their data for weeks.

For itself, T-Mobile has said it plans to keep the Sidekick brand around, but will base future models around Google’s Android operating system. T-Mobile hasn’t offered much in the way of details, but did promise in January that the first Android Sidekick devices would arrive this spring and will tap into the company’s fastest network. (T-Mobile has posted a teaser page on its Sidekick Web site.) The switch is somewhat fitting, given that the co-founder of Danger, Google’s Andy Rubin, is also the father of Android.

T-Mobile pitched the move as just the standard lifecycle of a product.

“It’s just a natural order of products to be replaced with newer technology as technology evolves,” Harlin said.

However, the move highlights the illusory nature of cloud-based devices. Sure, T-Mobile can’t take away the Sidekick you bought, but by shutting down the servers, the product is quite literally a shell of its former self.

Harlin said that the decision to shut down the Danger servers was made jointly by T-Mobile and Microsoft, but declined to say what specifically was prompting the shutdown or elaborate on how much it would have cost to keep the service running for existing Sidekick users.

Microsoft and Verizon made a similar move to pull the plug on the Kin service after killing that ill-fated product, though the Kin had only been on the market for a few weeks and less than 10,000 of the devices had been sold.

The end of the line for the Sidekick also means that Microsoft is effectively out of the business it acquired with its $500 million purchase of Danger. While it will surely argue that some fragments of the technology have made it into Windows Phone 7, most of the Danger team was focused on building the Kin and didn’t transfer over to the Windows Phone team until that product was nearly finished.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald