Blog Post

Music To Our Ears?

Today has turned out to be a very exciting day for Apple fans, with an updates triple whammy to keep the punters happy – the Motorola ROKR iTunes phone, iTunes 5 and the iPod nano, the flash-based iPod mini replacement that had been rumoured for weeks.

Motorola ROKR
So the iTunes phone is a reality . Behold the Motorola ROKR, a phone whose nomenclature takes its lead from some of Motorola’s other offerings (i.e. the ultra-thin RAZR) and whose industrial design is perhaps as lacking as Apple’s is beautiful (see disappointed musings here). But it would have been foolish to expect any better – the ROKR is, first and foremost, a Motorola product. So get over the fact that it kinda sucks, and get on with praying that Apple will one day make their own. All in all, it is a Good Thing.

The phone can store up to 100 songs, and so, Jobs says, it is best to consider it something like an iPod shuffle on your phone. Most significant is how music is loaded onto the device – via USB from iTunes, not, as had been rumoured, through downloading tracks from some new 3G data-based iTunes Music Store interface on the phone.

This is interesting. Obviously there were only really two ways for users to get music on to the ROKR – those two cited above. The question is, why has Apple gone for the latter?

Experience probably has quite a lot to do with it. Because you generally know what you are hunting for, the iPod interface works quite well, and so it makes sense for the ROKR to copy that interface for navigating its library (to hell with patent issues). But iTMS is quite a different matter. Much has been said about the brilliance of the iTunes interface, and this extends to the store – users of other online music stores are not gifted such simplicity and elegance.

But the iTMS interface will not translate particularly well to a 176×220 mobile phone screen. The page-width format makes for a very pleasant browsing experience, which is often what customers want when visiting a bricks-and-mortar shop. All this would be lost on the phone, leaving users likely frustrated and Apple’s reputation at least a little tarnished.

With the iTMS-on-phone model, you would also run into issues relating to the 100 song limit. What do you do with songs you don’t want to listen to at present but do not want to delete? Given the link with Apple, it would make sense to be able to transfer them back to iTunes proper, and so you’d need a USB cable…

However, there is one other argument for the iTMS-on-phone route – buying and downloading songs using mobile companies’ new 3G data networks would have netted them an extremely tidy sum. But whilst it may at first seem somewhat surprising that they would have turned this opportunity down, one should consider the cost of transferring 3-5MB of data over these shiny new 3G networks – prohibitive for most (at least in the UK it is; I am unfamiliar with what the average charge per megabyte is in the USA).

So with the benefit of hindsight, the current incarnation makes most sense. It will be interesting to see how well it sells over the next few months…

iTunes 5
iTunes 5 has been announced, and should be available for download shortly, either via Software Update or from the usual place. It is reported to sport a “refined” interface, a new search bar, smart shuffling, organising playlists into subfolders (a nice feature for those of us with far too many to fit on our tiny 12″ screens), Outlook syncing (for Windows users), parental controls (so that songs with explicit lyrics can be barred) and album reviews. Bad news is that it’s still Carbon, and, as pointed out in the comments below, there’s still no gapless playback.

The “refined” interface is the first thing that hits you when you load it up – it’s…”different”. And whilst change can be good, I’m willing to bet that it will invite not a small amount of criticism from user interface diehards like John Gruber. In any case, it was probably time for an update, and word on the street is that (at last), Steve Jobs is starting to get sick of metal.

Going through the feature list, the Outlook syncing is the only other addition which really merits much comment, and only to ask why it wasn’t there before. Perhaps we will see support for Thunderbird and/or Mozilla in due course.

iPod nano
1,000 songs. Impossibly small. iPod nano.

The iPod nano website has all the nitty gritty, and its undeniably impressive. The design, of course, is based on its elder brother, the iPod, bringing a certain uniformity to the line that was lost with the coloured anodised-metal casing sported by the iPod mini. And, to echo the sentiments of a million Goths worldwide, the black one is bloody gorgeous.

The reduction in storage capacity is significant. Presumably due to the cost of flash chips, Apple has elected not to retain an 8GB model, although this will doubtless follow in the future. There is also the possibility that the 8GB model was not selling particularly well, although it does seem more likely that memory prices are the sole reason for this decision.

And what of appealing to the fairer sex with an assortment of colours? It would seem that colour is now out of vogue again – an eerie echo, perhaps, of the demise of the iMac G3. Apple may simply be hoping that black goes with everything, and if it doesn’t, then white surely will. But if we see a hastily introduced range of colours 6 months down the line, then we’ll all know why.

Pretty good effort from Apple today – there’s plenty to be pleased with, and hopefully a bit to keep their bottom line ticking over when CPU sales start to stagnate due to the Intel switch. Hopefully the phone will be the first of many, and other retailers will get in on the act. I for one would very much like to see a Sony Ericsson iTunes phone, but know that the parent company would never allow it – a real shame, as they have a knack for great design, both externally and in their interfaces.

Let’s see how they sell.

19 Responses to “Music To Our Ears?”

  1. The Rokr is a disappointing design. I’m disappointed that Apple paired itself with Motorola. Apple should have partnered with Nokia. Nokia pushes the envelope of phone design. Nokia design, like Apple, is innovative and a lot of the time unexpected and never-before-seen. Nokia, like Apple, takes chances when it comes to design. Check out Nokia’s N series, the 7360, 7370, 7380, and the 3250 for phones Apple iTunes should have been paired with. Motorola’s designs are standard… The Rokr design is standard!

  2. Check out the new IPod Nano commercial (the one with the hands exchanging the product) – the music is by super talented guys, The Resource, out of NYC, with James Napes, from the UK. Even better, you can download a full length version of it on iTunes by going to the “Pop” section and searching “The Resource” and/or “Gimme That”.

  3. jj,

    Your comments are somewhat surprising – perhaps you are just trolling.

    The ROKR doesn’t really have Apple’s name attached to it – it is crucial to bear in mind that this is not an Apple product. Hence the rather lacking design. Part of me is a little surprised to see them launching something that really is rather ugly, but – again – one must remember that this is all about taking iTunes in new directions. It’s almost like a proof of concept design that accidentally got released to the public…

    As to the nano, I am not quite sure what figure you think would be appropriate for a player with this size-capacity ratio. I am actually quite impressed with the price, and indeed there are those who have observed that it costs less than equivalent CompactFlash cards. Or something.


  4. I had a phone 2 years ago that could do all that the Rokr can do! It certainly didn’t have a 100 song limit either. This phone looks truly ugly, just like most motorola phones, other than the razr maybe.

    I was considering the Rokr as my next phone, but now i’ll wait for the new nokia N91, that has WLAN as well!

    The nano is very nice, shame they couldn’t start with the nano design and add phone technology to that.

  5. This is arse. The ROKR is a piece of rubbish. It’s a year and then some old phone with a stupid iTunes button on it. I don’t care if it’s “not an Apple product” — their name is attached to it, and this is the first definitively uncool gadget they’ve launched in quite awhile. It’s a piece of shit and they should have just kept out of the phone game until they made something worthwhile.

    The nano? Apple has the ability unlike no other to offer you less product for more price by wooing you with sexy cool and sexy small. It’s a very cool looking product and like all Apple gadgets, will no doubt melt your wallet as soon as you see one in person and in hand. But it’s a friggin’ TWO GIG MP3 PLAYER for TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! I don’t care how small or cool looking it is … that’s a joke!

    They could sell ice to Eskimos in the Winter, those Apple fuckers.

  6. people want to be able to buy songs over the air but honestly, how many hundreds of millions of songs do you have to sell even at $2-$3 to make that infrastriucture cost back … can you imgine the tech support calls (sir, please go outside and I’ll try and re-download the song… or what do you mean you couldn’t figure the correct track from your 1″ by 1″ screen in direct sunlight?) … it all sounds good until you really think through the actual details.

    how many hundreds of phones did Motorola create to get to the RZR, right? Apple would’ve designed something better but hey, if you want a battery draining choice (like playing games or surfing the net on a tiny screen), here ya go.

    The ipod nano is pretty cool. anybody who disses it clearly just bought an Rio and is a little bitter no one on eBay will buy it for 10% of what they paid.

  7. If you want an ‘itunes’ phone buy a Sony Ericcson V800 – in the UK 3G mobile [100kbs] via bluetooth to powerbook on the move + mp3 player & memory card up to 1Gig. No way are Apple going to take the mobile market, that’s why nano is such a good idea but it does lack bluetooth which is a bad move with the number of phone cameras with bluetooth… T

  8. BG,

    The phone was never going to be anything more than this, given that we (always) knew it was going to be made by Motorola – and that’s intended both as and not as a sleight against that company’s offerings.

    This is not about looks, either externally or on the screen. Rather, this is all about getting fingers into new pies, so to speak.

    I’ll post more about this in due course.


  9. I’m extremely dissappoointed with the itunes phone just as i thought i’d be. It’s an exact replica of Motorola’s E398 with a itunes music player installed. It should have been made to look like an iPod if you ask me.

    Here’s a link to the E398.

    And compare the two photos:

    Are Apple trying to pull a fast one on us??

    The Nano on the other hand is extremely cool. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.

  10. We’ve been waiting months for…. THIS?! What a wasted opportunity. Apple’s used to be about, design simplicity and innovation and have launched ANOTHER iPod. Yawn. An iTunes interface on a nasty and not particularly advanced cell phone that few Apple fan’s will be buying and a new iTunes interface. They relseased a 2 button mouse and announced they were moving into Intels.

    It used to be the products spoke for themselves and required no hype – now it’s all Press Releases Madonna ties in and selling out…

  11. Cyber,

    I must confess that I don’t really understand what you’re saying. And the smartphones you link to are interesting (although none of them stand out particularly design-wise), but do we really want to be aspiring to run Windows on a phone?

    I’m not saying Mac OS X would be suitable, of course, but Windows!? It’s an accident waiting to happen.


  12. Cyber,

    Remember that the ROKR is not an Apple product, rather a Motorola one, with all the pitfalls that that implies. I have a friend with a RAZR, and whilst it is impressive on the outside, its interface is sadly lacking when compared to, say, that found on phones from Sony Ericsson or Nokia. It’s very much like Sony’s VAIO range of computers, which – externally – are very pleasant to look at; it’s only once you boot them up that you realise they run Windows.

    In fact, of course, the iPod nano shows that Apple is very much at the forefront – it is most certainly not allowing itself to be eclipsed by the competition. Expect to see a lot of copycat players emerge in time for Christmas..


  13. Cyber rabbit

    I totally agree with the design of the Rokr. It’s outdated and no hip! If it feels the same like the Razr (which looks great in pictures and ads but in real life it feels like cheap plastic) it will be a piece of ###. Is it just me or am I getting spoiled? Were my expactations to high? When will Apple introduce something that overwelming again? The MWSF this year was also underwelming. Just evolutionary stuff like updates tiny speedbumps etc. Is the world going to fast for Apple? Look at Sony or Samsung… new models and features every 6? months. If Apple is keeping this snale pace it will be sandwiched by the competition. My hopes are focused on Paris… I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Or am I really spoiled?

  14. While it’s true that the Nano is void of any colors, Apple does provide “Tubes”, which will add a splash of color, if you desire.

    Personally though, that black is SEXY, and I wouldn’t cover it for ANYTHING.