iTunes Phone Falls Flat, nano Goes Huge

by Chris Seibold Sep 08, 2005

People had been expecting an iTunes enabled cell phone for quite some time. Frequent delays had only ratcheted up expectations. There were legitimate reasons for the optimism: Imagine Apple’s world leading industrial design finally harnessed to make the slickest cell phone human eyes have yet to behold. Couple that with what would undoubtedly some incredibly clever method of navigation and dialing and you’re looking at a world class product that anyone would find drool worthy. So it must have been a bit of a letdown when Steve revealed a clunky phone that could hold a whopping one hundred songs. Sadly they couldn’t even get the headphones right (earwax orange? Come on, at least try!).

It would be all too easy to blame Motorola for the anemic 1999 design of the phone. You can imagine the engineers at Motorola laughing at all of Apple’s suggestions (“Make it look good? That’s crazy talk!”) yet Motorola has some really compellingly designed phones. The phone, in all likelihood, suffers from the “too many cooks” scenario. Cingular demands one thing, Motorola wants another and Jonathan Ives cringes in horror every time he sees a prototype. So the phone, despite all the anticipation, lived up to absolutely no expectations. Why amateur designers could (and did) dream up much better looking phones. How lame is the new Motorola phone? A one legged camel springs to mind but perhaps the best example of just how tacked on iTunes seems to be is the fact that even Hadley Stern wasn’t excited and that guy buys iPods with the regularity the rest of us feed parking meters.

More unfortunate than the uninspired design is the utility. An iTunes enabled cell phone that holds 100 songs is basically a worthless gimmick designed to lure you into ponying up $300 and signing a two-year contract with Cingular. Cingular may have the best service in the business but you’re looking at a total investment of $2,000 dollars for a phone that offers a color screen to navigate a miniscule play list. Take my advice get the free Cingular phone, buy a hot glue gun and a 512Mb Shuffle join the two semi permanently and get the best of both worlds. Sure you might look a little geeky but at least you’ll have a good cell phone experience and a good iPod experience.

No one outside of Motorola and Apple knows why the phone was so often delayed. Speculating that Steve Jobs took one look at the thing and decided if that was all he presented someone would punch him in the mouth for wasting their time seems apropos. So, in my fantasy world anyway, Steve set the Apple minions to the task of making something truly worthy of a media event and the folks at Apple delivered in spades. I am referring, of course, to the new iPod nano. Okay the name is contrived and far too cutesy (Got an iPod nano? Protect it with the iPod nano tube! Stop, oooh my liver, you’re killing me.) The unfortunate name aside (next up the zepto?) the iPod nano is simply brilliant. The looks are indescribably slick, the space is ample when you consider the number of songs people actually keep on their digital audio players and the size is simply breathtaking.

At this point someone is bound to whine about the price. Compared to the larger iPods the new nano does seem a bit on the expensive side. You’re paying $6.67 per GB for a king sized iPod and paying a seemingly huge $62.25 (that is an order of magnitude more expensive) per GB of storage for the nano. That comparison is a bit unfair because the players use different forms of memory. It is akin to comparing the cost of beef to chicken, sure they are both animal derived protein sources but there is a fundamental difference betwixt the two meats. Likewise the iPod nano is an excellent value if you consider the cost of the storage used (I’ve saved you the trouble of searching). When viewed in that light the iPod nano seems like a veritable bargain. Oh, and it comes in black too.

So we have reached the point where it is time to weigh the event as a whole. Let us use football terms. The Motorola ROKR is the equivalent of a strong side pitch sweep where the quarterback flips the ball completely over the head of the running back. In short it is a busted play, the kind of thing you shake off and try to forget. The iPod nano, on the other hand, is the equivalent of a tightly thrown 60-yard spiral that hits a receiver running flat out in mid stride. In short it is a thing of beauty, something you can watch over and over again and still be impressed.


  • I’m equally disappointed in the ROKR.  I was hoping that this would be the incentive I needed to get away from Sprint PCS (though I love my Treo 650, I hate the Sprint “service”).  But basically all of the things that didn’t work with playback on my Treo also apply here.  I already have a 1GB SD card loaded with songs and I already sync to my Mac to get those songs loaded up.

    Foolish me, I thought an iTunes phone actually meant an iTunes STORE enabled phone.

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 112
  • Meh… I don’t care either way. I really don’t see the point in an iTunes phone anyway. I use a phone to talk to people. That’s it. Whether it’s this bloated piece of crap or some stellar Apple design (which is undoubtedly in the works as we speak - they’re just getting their foot in the door with the ROKR) I ain’t buying it.

    The nano, on the other hand, kicks all sorts of ass.

    Real hard, too.

    zzcoop had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 8
  • i *totally* agree: the phone *sucks*! and i mean *sucks*. god how could jobs agree to be embarassed by that thing on stage? it’s fugly is what it is.

    and the nano is *beautiful*. i agree: you’re right. i bet we’re looking at nano-craziness now, and the ‘phone’ will be quietly forgotten. there’s no way that jobs could ever have thought that thing would actually take off….no way.

    i mean, you ever see steve jobs? he looks like a walking apple ad. could you imagine him pulling that phone out and using it in public?

    no way. nooooooo way! he wouldn’t use it, and neither will i! =)

    ipod nano on the other hand….*purr*..... =)

    Savanna had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 3
  • Yes, I would at least have expected perfect, and I mean *perfect*, OS X sync, so including iCal *categories* and such. Any form of .mac integration would have been nice too, but maybe too far-fetched. I guess part of the problem is with the US Market being totally under the control of providers. If you’d pull these “this phones only works on our network” stunts in Germany people would most likely set you on fire. Nevertheless, it’s merely a thing of having some iTunes interface on the phone, Moto could well take it to… bearable phones. But since the nano is so incredibly small, the sole reason for having such a music phone falls flat. The nano looks as though you could even slip it into your wallet…

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 371
  • Yes, the phone isn’t a design marvel, but I though we all knew that Motorola was designing it, not Apple. Apple just created the application, and it does what it does: it plays music. I think the hype and anticipation for this product was a setup for disappointment. On the other hand, the nano will be a success. Apple’s stock went down just a tad yesterday upon unveiling the phone. I would have expected the stock to shoot up with the announcement of the nano, but like I said, I think people were disappointed purely because of the phone.

    Argh! Stupid cell phones.

    m_melugin had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I’d combine “first” with “ugly” when describing the ROKR and say that the phone is “fugly!” wink

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some stupid people get this phone to see weather forecasts from The Today Show.

    macFanDave had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 3
  • [crickets chirping]

    zzcoop had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 8
  • “Earwax orange” says it all for me.

    cloudwall had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 21
  • I suppose we can only hope Apple wanted to get it’s foot in the Cingular door and will ultimately release an iTunes phone directly soon. One can only hope anyway. Because this thing released will go down as a big dud.

    mozart11 had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 35
  • All in all, great article, hilarious and right on. When the nano was released yesterday, a friend of mine and I had the same thought: seemingly, a nano is far more expensive per gig than a ‘standard’ (20 or 60 GB) ipod.

    However, we did some quick calculations to find out how much each costs per gigabyte per ounce or cubic inch (ie: cost per “bit density” for each model, an attempt to compare the ipod models with respective to their size, not just price and capacity).

    It turns out that the 4GB nano is $93.98 per GB per ounce and $94.12 per GB per in^3. The 20GB standard ipod is only marginally less, at $88.21 per GB per ounce and $92.28 per GB per in^3.

    The nano’s amazingly small size easily allows it to compete with the 20GB ipod, and I’d imagine sales will back this up. (I know I want one!)

    Of course, the 60GB does blow them all out of the water—$42.06 and $49.08 for the same numbers, respectively—but this is to be expected, with three times the capacity of the 20GB for only $100 increase in price.

    Just thought some of the readers here would find this interesting!

    sulciphur had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 2
  • I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  I have a Nokia 6260 and can play mp3 fine from it as well as listen to the radio.  Plus Motorola always designed ugly and bad phone.  I do like the designs of the iphone posted on this page.  If you wanted a phone the does all this and is filled with other features then wait for the Nokia n91 to come out.  should be released soon.  now thats a phone.  and for the guy with the treo, unlock it and change networks or get a sony ericsson p910I.

    bozwayed had this to say on Sep 08, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I think Apple gets more public exposure with the iTunes phone while they’re partnered with Motorola. They’re clearly trying to play off the iPod’s popularity with the new ROKR. I think if Apple seriously wants to make a splash in the phone market, they’ll have to come out with a truly innovative or extremely well-designed product. They’re are simply just too many PDA+phone+cameras out there already.

    maelswarm had this to say on Sep 11, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I also agree that the ROKR is a total downer. Yet, in the end, the effect is that it makes the nano look all that much sexier. As Apple probably get little or nothing out of iTunes in ROKR, I’m sure Apple isn’t unhappy about the fact that the nano is getting all the accolades.

    Secondly, the outdated design of the ROKR may serve a longer term objective. Everyone knows what happens to old phones: they get offered for free with a service contract.

    I would not be surprised if a year from now, the ROKR is selling for $99 with a service contract, and sometime after that, Cingular is handing them out free left and right. Apple may have sold 22 million iPods to date, but in terms of adoption, that number don’t mean squat compared to the TVs, VCR, and DVD players. Clearly there are huge numbers of people out there who have never touched an iPod, never heard of iTunes, and don’t understand the Apple reference in “Forest Gump.”

    But I bet those people have a cell phone.

    That’s the real purpose of the ROKR. Get tens of millions of credit cards on file by putting iTunes in a device that will be given away for free before long.

    1.8 million songs sold per day may be impressive until the day hundreds of millions of people own an iTunes-enabled (free) phone…

    Paul had this to say on Sep 12, 2005 Posts: 31
  • The worst part about the Rokr is that Cingular is the exclusive US carrier of the phone.  Cingular has by far the worst customer service and bends over backwards to screw customers left and right.  I was unwillingly made a Cingular customer by the AT&T merger.  A mere 2 months after the merger, I ended up with a $1500 bill for a phantom data transfer that supposedly occurred at 3am on a Saturday morning!  Ya, I’m going to download 440MB at that time of the morning… esp when I already had DSL!!!

    Furthermore, Cingular refused to show me the records they had on the call that supposedly showed indisputable proof I made the transfer.

    Do yourself a favor, just buy a iPod and steer clear of Cingular.  No matter how good their coverage is, it’s not worth the headaches.

    ccrandall77 had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Now for some thoughts on the Nano…

    Even though I sold my Mini to get one, I still feel just a little disappointed.  The Nano fell short in several ways:

    1.) No bundled ac adapter and belt clip
    2.) No firewire support (a huge problem if you have an older Mac)
    3.) No A/V out like on the iPod-Photo
    4.) No more remote jack so other iPod-mini accessories don’t work.

    OK, these aren’t huge issues for me, but they are a little irritating.  However, these flaws bother me more…

    5.) Headphone jack at the bottom

    Now I have to tip is upside down all the time when I’m in the car (hopefully a 3rd party dock will fix this) and when using with my Groove Cube speakers.

    6.) Polished plastic and metal construction.

    Ya, looks great out of the box, but wait til it scratches… and those greasy finger prints… YUCK!!!

    7.) Only available in 2 and 4GB capacities.

    If it’s going to replace the mini, it should match the mini’s specs.

    Still, it’s a nice little gadget.  I was just hoping more for a Mini with color screen, manly colors instead of pastels, iPod-Photo capabilities, and 8-10GB flavors.  And where’s the bluetooth!?!?  Wireless headphones would be great for the gym and it’d be nice to sync the PIMs via bluetooth.

    Hopefully the Minis will make a return when Apple gets their hands on Toshiba’s 40GB 1.8” HDDs.

    ccrandall77 had this to say on Sep 13, 2005 Posts: 4
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