The Motorola ROKR

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on September 22nd, 2005.

The media reaction to the release of the latest iPod, the tiny iPod nano which is no wider than a pencil and about a billion times sexier than any pencil I’ve used, actually says more about the release of another product than it does about the public’s love for all things iPod.  Sorry make that nearly all things iPod.

Released during the same keynote by Apple’s CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, the Motorola ROKR phone was released.  It however did not receive the same media fawning as the iPod nano but rather a mixture of indifference and skepticism from the tech media.  The phone, a Motorola product rather than an Apple product, lacked the beautiful industrial design elements that set Apple’s music players and computers apart.  It even lacked the style of Motorola’s dead sexy RAZR flip phone, a thin little device in its own right. 

There were other reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for the product.  While the iPod nano was a complete surprise, having been kept secret by Apple for months, the introduction of the ROKR was expected as both Motorola and various cellular network providers had leaked information about it.  Pictures of the device had been on the internet for months. 

It was not just a lack of secrecy and design issues that kept and will continue to keep the ROKR from being the sort of success that Motorola and wireless companies like Rogers Wireless who will be carrying the phone in Canada, would like it to be.  The whole success of the ROKR will hang on whether or not the public buys into the idea of digital convergence.

What does that mean?  Well basically it means that in the future some people see us all having only one device that we carry around with us.  This device will be all we need for our day-to-day life.  It will be a cellular phone, a music player, a camera, a day planner, an email device and we’ll be able to watch television on it.  It might even make toast.  That’s the image that the cellular companies are selling, because they figure as cellular phone makers they’ll be the ones selling this new all-in-one device. 

The problem with this image is there’s no real evidence that the public really wants this.  Technically it’s probably possible to combine your microwave and your television into one device, but that’s not happening any time soon.  We don’t see a lot of toilets doubling as wash machines or toothbrush-flashlight combos.  Granted there is a certain allure of having a Star Trek like device that can take care of all our daily needs.  But even in Star Trek there were different devices for different tasks.  Kirk had a flit open communicator, not much different than today’s cellular phones, and then a separate tricorder for scanning for alien life. 

The other problem is by joining devices we lose something of what was good about them separately.  An iPod is by far the best and easiest way to listen to digital music, and based on the reviews of Motorola’s clunky and slow iTunes interface on the ROKR, it will be for a long time.  Phones have had cameras in them for years, but I’d still recommend a separate digital camera to collect your treasured family moments.  Cell phones aren’t about to drive Canon’s Digital Rebel off the market and I don’t think they’ll be driving the iPod and other music players away anytime soon.