After the rash of less-than-glowing reviews of the first iTunes-compatible mobile phone, Motorola’s Rokr E1, you can imagine things were a little somber at this week’s Moto coffee klatch. One can picture a roomful of executives clutching crullers and coffee, grappling with how a surefire scheme could have gone awry.
“But, but, this iPod thing is supposed to be cool, right? And the Rokr is just like an iPod, isn’t it? So, we should be cool too.”
Conversely, back at Apple HQ, those close to the Rokr project might be seen thoughtfully nibbling their morning mochi with an “I told you so” detachment.
What Motorola seems to have missed is that the first iTunes phone would undergo an unprecedented amount of scrutiny. Fair or not, expectations for this device would be sky-high based on people’s experience with the iPod and the fact that Apple finally deigned to bring its iTunes/iPod technology to a device bearing another company’s name. Given that, any phone that failed to perform as flawlessly and intuitively as an iPod would face severe criticism.
And with its slow music syncing, lack of responsiveness, and ungainly interface, that’s exactly the flavor of criticism the Rokr received.
What might Motorola and Apple have done differently?
To begin with, Meeting One should not have been adjourned without an agreement that Apple design the phone’s entire interface. Phone geeks will tell you that although Motorola is capable of creating cool looking phones, they fall short in the intuitiveness of their interfaces. If Apple knows anything, it’s how to make complex devices easy to use.
Meeting Two would introduce the “When Steve stops throwing the phone against the wall, we’re ready to go into early beta” amendment. Anyone who’s followed Apple for longer than the life-span of the more robust fruit fly understands that Steve Jobs is loathe to release products that he wouldn’t use himself. Forget the lumpy interface, the 50 minutes necessary to load the phone with music guarantees Steve’s finest fast ball. The Rokr doesn’t meet that Steve Standard and in its current incarnation, it would be just another stillborn device in Apple’s R&D labs.
Meeting Three would be postponed so that Apple and Sony Ericsson could get together yet again to try to settle their differences over the whole “You Guys Understand That Sony Connect Sucks, Right?” thing.
With Meeting Four, the tension breaks as all parties burst into derisive laughter when Cingular is mentioned as the phone’s sole U.S. carrier.
Meeting Five spells the end as Motorola concludes that Apple wants too much control, Apple determines that if it’s going to have that much control it might as well make the phone itself, and both parties understand that going forward with a phone that’s basically last year’s model with iTunes poorly slapped onto it would produce a mediocre mobile that does neither company much good.