Inside story of why the Motorola ROKR iTunes mobile phone went wrong

“One sign that the ROKR, the new iTunes phone from Motorola, might not live up to expectations came during its September unveiling ceremony at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. In the midst of an elaborate presentation of new products, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, faltered in his onstage demonstration of one of the ROKR’s most crucial features: effortless switching from MP3 player to phone and back again. After taking a call from a colleague, he went back to … nothing. Silence. ‘Well,’ he said, looking perplexed, ‘I’m supposed to be able to resume the music right back to where it was. …’ Then: ‘Oops! I hit the wrong button.’ Maybe not the ROKR’s fault, but since Jobs’ presentations are usually flawless, certainly not a good omen,” Frank Rose writes for Wired.

“When Jobs and Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, announced 15 months ago that the two companies were going to partner on a new phone, people imagined a hybrid of two of the coolest products in existence: Apple’s iPod and Moto’s RAZR. For months the new gizmo glimmered mirage-like on gadget sites – ever promised, never delivered. When it finally did show up, it bore the unmistakable hump of a committee camel. Not sleek like an iPod, not slim like a RAZR – and when you saw the fine print, you discovered that you can’t use it to buy music over the airwaves, that it’s painfully slow at loading songs from iTunes on your computer, and that it comes pre-hobbled with a 100-song limit. No matter how much of its 512 megabytes of flash memory you have left, you can’t load any more tracks onto the thing. The consensus: disappointing,” Rose writes.

“What should a music phone offer? The specs aren’t hard to figure out. For starters, it should have clearly marked Pause and Play buttons so as not to trip up people like Steve Jobs. It should sync quickly and easily with your computer, and you should be able to use it to buy music at a reasonable price. It should play music from iTunes or any other music service. You should be able to choose different amounts of memory, and whatever you decide on, it shouldn’t be constrained to 100 songs – or any other arbitrary limit,” Rose writes. “None of this is difficult. The technology to make a cell phone do double duty as an MP3 player is readily available. Motorola and other companies have been selling phones that play music in Europe and Asia for a couple of years now – handsets with lots of memory and serious audio capabilities. And with the iPod, Apple showed how to turn an ordinary MP3 player into a great one. Put it all together and you get – the ROKR? How does a great idea get this botched?”

Full comprehensive article, an excellent read, here.

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Related article:
How Apple’s Steve Jobs snookered the entire cell phone industry – October 03, 2005
Apple iPod division head: iPod and mobile phones best left separate – September 27, 2005
If Apple isn’t working on their own iPhone, they’re making a stupid mistake – September 12, 2005
Does Apple need a mobile phone of its own design? – September 09, 2005

Motorola CEO Zander: Apple to build a smart phone, it’s only a matter of time – September 29, 2005
Motorola says ‘screw nano’ comment was joke – September 26, 2005
Motorola CEO Ed Zander on Apple iPod nano: ‘Screw the nano’ – September 26, 2005

Report: Motorola ROKR iTunes phone ‘may have flopped’ with six times the returns versus normal rate – October 21, 2005
Fortune’s Lewis: Apple iTunes software the only cute thing about Motorola’s ROKR mobile phone – September 21, 2005
Consumer Reports: Apple’s iPod nano ‘sizzles,’ Motorola ROKR mobile phone ‘fizzles’ – September 21, 2005
BBC: Motorola ROKR iTunes mobile phone design ‘feels like yesterday’s phone by UK standards’ – September 17, 2005
Hands on review of Motorola ROKR Apple iTunes mobile phone – September 12, 2005
Motorola ROKR iTunes-enabled mobile phone greeted with cool response – September 12, 2005
Music phones pose no threat to Apple iPod – September 09, 2005
USA Today: Motorola ROKR iTunes mobile phone provides ‘snazzy’ first impression – September 08, 2005
NYT’s Pogue: Motorola ROKR iTunes phone ‘great-sounding, reasonably priced and a lot of fun’ – September 08, 2005
Apple’s iPod nano will make competitors whimper, Motorola’s ROKR inexplicably bland – September 07, 2005
Tech pundit Enderle: ‘iPod Nano is a hit,’ Motorola ROKR ‘simply doesn’t have enough Apple in it’ – September 07, 2005
Apple announces Motorola ROKR iTunes phone, Cingular partnership, iTunes 5 – September 07, 2005
Apple, Motorola & Cingular debut world’s first iTunes mobile phone – September 07, 2005
Motorola ROKR Apple iTunes mobile phone availability dates for Europe, North America, and Asia – September 07, 2005


  1. Perhaps Steve deliberately screwed up, so as to make the Motorola phone look bad, so they sell more iPods.

    Then again, Motorola phones are apparently hard to use (I’m still waiting to judge for myself – one of my friend’s has a RAZR, so I’m hoping to try it out for myself)

  2. What went wrong? The took an old phone and tried to pass this shit off as new! They should have made it from scratch and allowed Apple to have designed the phone. So now Apple is interested in making their own cell and you’re shit out of luck.

  3. i bought this phone first day it came out, even with already hating Moto phones i was like what the hell so i got it, the phone sucked so much ass and sorry support you would think with it being a apple supported phone it would sync your address’s and notes nope if you are reading this and are looking to buy this phone don’t i got another phone from Cingular the Nokia 6682 way better.

  4. Motorolla sold about a quarter of a million of those iTunes phones, whatever Steve Jobs got from Motorolla and Cingular for that I hope it was worth it.

    The phone is absolute trash. Sorry Motorola.

    We Mac users are used to close to perfection the first time, everytime.

  5. If Motorola was really serious about the ipod phone they would have incorporated itunes into a spin moto phone…

    I just got to london and had to buy a phone just as the itunes phone was coming out. i couldn’t believe how cheap and crappy the phone was…

    motorola offers MUCH better phones in countries like Japan and Korea where the competition is MUCH greater… it’s funny how they can get away with offering crap in countries where the competition isn’t offering much… I’m tired of the “Give as little as possible and Charge as much as you can” philosophy which runs directly counter to apple’s “Best Possible Product at Most Reasonable Price”…

    What was clear from Job’s presentation was that he wasn’t pleased with amount of commitment from Motorola and was a bit embarrassed about having to peddle junk to the faithful…

  6. Jobs presentations are not actually flawless. I´ve heard him say that he´s hit the wrong button a couple times. I think the fact that steve isn´t the greatest computer genius ever is part of the reason apple is so great and making products that rocket scientists and non rocket scientists can use.

    I haven´t seen the ROKR but I bet I would agree. No one compares to Nokia´s ease of use. I have long thought of them as the apple of the cell phone industry. I was pissed when tey partnered with MS for their music phone. If they partnered with apple that would be the first phone I would ever be willing to pay full price for. I have never bought a phone unless it was time to renew my contract but for a nokia apple orgy i would gladly put down a real amount of money. mmmm intuitive feature filled goodness.

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