7 September 2005

107 grams


Marketed as “the world’s first mobile phone with iTunes”, the Rokr E1 was developed by Motorola in partnership with Apple and US carrier, Cingular. Users were able to transfer up to 100 songs by syncing with Apple’s iTunes software on a Mac or PC. The Rokr E1 was based on the Motorola E398, a device that had integrated stereo speakers making it well suited as a platform for a music phone. Motorola’s CEO Ed Zander, who was desperately looking for a new hit device to replace the iconic Motorola Razr V3, had convinced Apple CEO Steve Jobs to support the project, but the outcome was a huge disappointment. In the end, it was little more than a poor variant of the low-capacity iPod Shuffle with an uninspiring design, basic VGA camera, a sluggish iTunes interface, slow music transfer speeds and the inability to download music tracks wirelessly. Although the device was designed to listen to music on its built-in stereo speakers, consumers that wanted to use their own headphones had to use a cumbersome adaptor to convert the 2.5mm headset adaptor on the top of the phone to the more standardised 3.5mm adaptor that most headphones required (see below).Motorola Rokr E1 Front Headphone Jack The device had a removable 512MB TransFlash (Micro SD) memory card which supported the 100 music track limit, but Apple made it clear that it would not allow more than 100 tracks on the device even if the memory could be upgraded in future. Users were also frustrated that music tracks synced via iTunes could not be used as a ringtone. Despite it's many shortcomings, one notable feature on the device, which had been pioneered on E398, was Rhythm Lights. Motorola’s design team had been working hard on haptic technology which combined vibration and light to offer a more immersive and engaging experience. Multicolour LEDs were integrated into the side of the phone near the speakers and would create a light show based on the beat of the music being played (see below). Rokr E1 Light Gif The TV commercial for the Rokr E1 (see below) was a star-studded affair. It was led by Madonna, who joined a teenager standing in a phone booth in a village in the mountain desert of the Middle East and is talking to his girlfriend. Madonna puts her hand on his cheek and kisses the teenager and then asks the teenager 'Who's that girl?' and you hear his girlfriend’s voice screaming through the receiver: 'Who's that girl?'. An instrumental version of Madonna's latest single at the time, Hung Up, then begins to play as other characters are introduced and squeezed into the phone booth. The procession is led by Beethoven and Jimmy Hendrix and then the other stars arrive and pack into the booth. Towards the end, when the phone booth is completely full, Biggie Smalls appears and the commercial cuts to Madonna's face being pressed against the glass as she yells 'Biggie....NOOOO!' – at this point, all the stars disappear into the phone booth receiver which then changes into a Motorola Rokr E1 in the teenager’s hand. Other stars featured in the commercial included Little Richard, Bootsy Collins, Lil' John, The White Stripes, Sleater-Kinney, Sum 41, Mya, Pussycat Dolls, Billie Joe (from Green Day). Ultimately. the Rokr E1 project is widely regarded as being a learning experience for Steve Jobs and the Apple team, helping them understand the mobile phone market, the key distribution channels and more. It was certainly the project that led to the partnership between Cingular (AT&T) and Apple which eventually became the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the USA. The Rokr E1 also focused Apple’s minds on everything they disliked about mobile phones and wanted to fix with an Apple product.