Cory Doctorow for Boing-Boing on the miserable flop that is Motorola’s new ROKR/iTunes phone:
Wired has a depressing long feature on how the Motorola ROKR iTunes phone ended up flopping so hard. It comes down to this: Apple didn’t want to cannibalize iPod sales, the carriers don’t want to cannibalize mobile music sales, and the labels want to control everything.
All of this reminds me of why Sony had such a hard time bringing the Walkman into the digital age and creating an equally popular MP3 player: Sony has one foot in the music industry, another foot in consumer electronics. Ooops — they found themselves trying to serve two markets that were suddenly in a conflict of interest. To protect their music industry interests they released their first players as ATRAC players rather than MP3. Which of course no one wanted.
The two-year contract on my original cell phone is heading towards expiration and I’ll soon be in the market for a replacement. Can tell you right now the ROKR ain’t going to be it.
3 Replies to “Miserable Bedfellows”
I like the conspiracy theory that Apple wanted to silence all the idiots asking for an Apple Phone.
They outsource the Apple Phone to a company who have great Industrial Design, but Pathetic User Interface Design, so it will be a Guaranteed Flop.
Then they say, “Look, combining a Media Player with a Phone is a Stupid Idea. Use your phone for making Phone Calls and your Media Player for playing Media.
I like this theory because I agree with the philosophy behind it; Use a Camera for taking Photos, use a Phone for making phone calls and use a Hard Drive Media Player for storing and Playing Media. In situations where you have a hybrid task, such as MMS or Storing Photos to your HDMP (do you like that Acronym? I just made it up), use a Personal Area Network.
Phone and PDA Manufacturers still don’t get the PAN thing yet though. They have Bluetooth; but Wired Ports still don’t use standard communication over cables. While the iPod and Camera interface nicely with the iPod Camera Adaptor and a USB Cable, Palm PDAs require HotSync, Windows CE (or Portable, or whatever they want to call it this month) devices require Activesync and Phones require Whatever Proprietary Syncing Software they use.
Ironically, Sony’s Walkman Phone (which came out a month or two ago) is really cool — a much better implementation than the ROKR, and with less restrictive proprietary-app bullshit.
Sony marketed ATRAC primarily as a minidisc based format, but has continued to carry it alongside other formats for minidisc and other media. ATRAC minidisc units have been floated in the U.S. mainly for music consumption (flop) and radio broadcasting (successfully replaced audio cassettes and to a large extent DATs). At the same time it has done well in Japan and the U.K. among other places. Of course it is not the format as much as the minidisc (or eraseable CD) itself that has been desirable.
Given that most minidisc users are either listening in an immersive acoustic environment (for ex. walking down a city street) or using them to record vox for broadcast, ATRAC sound quality has been less of a concern than it would be for more critical auditing situations. If you have an easy way to upload or reformat minidiscs to CD quality audio, they are really great.
I think I would add this to what you have saidâ€”Sony restricted user access to eraseable uncompressed PCM 16/44.1 formatting on minidiscs for what, at least a decade (?) but has changed its position in part because of iPod sales and the popularity of MP3 downloads. Too little too late? I think you still have to use software to upload uncompressed recordings. It also makes sense that Sony would withhold its music catalogue from iTunes in Japan given the market for minidisc players there.
Does the Sony Walkman Phone work with MP3 formatted audio? If so, then I would gather they are doing this in part to apply additional pressure on Apple with hopes of weakening iPod sales, esp. where Sony has a sizeable minidisc market. As long as they did the R&D and tooling for ATRAC minidiscs (and Memory Sticks), I’m sure they will do whatever they have to do in order to sell themâ€”even if it means catering to a niche that is in essence collecting different minidisc player case designs.