The ROKR phone’s problems run deeper than a marketing foul-up, though. Because Apple didn’t want to cannibalize sales of its highly profitable iPod line, its agreement with Motorola limited the capacity of the ROKR to a mere 100 songs, compared with the typical iPod’s ability to store a thousand songs. Even if a user swaps out the ROKR phone’s memory storage card for a beefier one, the device still won’t hold more than this amount. That’s a pretty significant handicap.
So the deal with Apple turned out to be a Faustian bargain for Motorola. The company grafted Apple’s cool cachet onto the launch; but accommodating Apple’s business model has turned off a lot of potential consumers.
(When I contacted Apple for a comment on the iTunes component of the ROKR, the Apple spokeswoman sent me back to Motorola, saying: "That phone is their deal.")
Despite the less-than-glowing response to the ROKR phone, I’m still bullish on the idea of a music-playing cell phone. For the concept to work, however, phone makers will need to put consumer interests first, notably, the ability to store lots of music on the device.
Actually, Motorola realizes this, and plans to launch a much more consumer-friendly cell-phone service, called iRadio, on January 6, 2006. The size of the iRadio’s music library will be limited only by the amount of storage built into the phone. In addition, consumers will be able to download prerecorded "radio" programs (such as hits from the ’80s) to their phones, as well as sync the devices to car stereos for playback.
Although I’m not confident that consumers will go for the as-yet-untested radio channels feature, the new phone’s large music library storage capabilities should go a long way toward resuscitating the still-unproven concept of a music phone.