Retromodo: Motorola ROKR E1

Retromodo: Motorola ROKR E1

It feels like phones that do much more than take calls have been around forever, but it’s still an astonishingly young industry. A case in point: the Motorola ROKR E1, the world’s first mobile phone “with iTunes”. That was meant to be a seriously hot selling point only seven years ago.

The genesis of this piece was nothing more or less than it popping up in my inbox while I was doing some general Motorola research, and when I realised how relatively recent this particular phone was, my jaw dropped. Either that, or I’m just getting old, but I didn’t want to think along those lines.

OK, it’s perhaps unfair to compare today’s smartphones to the E1; it’s much more of a feature phone all things considered. Still, the fact that Motorola thought this was a good idea at the time speaks volumes; Apple executives were presumably staying very quiet about their own work on what would become the iPhone.

First of all there’s the wacky fact that its primary selling point at the time was that it was iTunes compatible… but only with 100 iTunes songs maximum at any one time. That was undoubtedly an Apple requirement to protect iPod sales, but still, it was very weird — and not terribly well received at the time. So bad, in fact, that it made it into our 50 worst products of the previous decade.

Then there’s the question of how you’d go about advertising a phone like this? I’m no marketing expert, but I suspect the effort below didn’t help any:

This one’s better — but it wouldn’t have been cheap

Then there’s the press release, which was the thing that got me reminiscing in the first place. Here it is, in all its glory:

Motorola and Apple Launch the World’s First Mobile Phone with iTunes
Motorola ROKR E1 available to consumers throughout Europe, North America, North Asia and Southeast Asia
SCHAUMBURG, IL and CUPERTINO, CA – 8 September 2005 – Motorola, Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Apple today announced the availability of the world’s first mobile phone with iTunes, enabling music lovers to transfer up to 50 of their favourite songs from the iTunes jukebox on their Mac or PC to their mobile phone. The Motorola ROKR E1 features easy to use menus, simple navigation and playback, and the ability to simply switch from listening to music to talking on the phone and back again with the push of a dedicated music key. 
“The Motorola ROKR represents the ultimate convergence of mobile communications and music,” said Ed Zander, chairman and CEO of Motorola.  “Fusing iTunes with your always-with-you mobile phone, we’re revolutionising the way the world experiences mobile self-expression and entertainment.”
“We’ve worked closely with Motorola to deliver the world’s best music experience on a Motorola mobile phone,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We’re also thrilled to be working with our partners globally to bring this pioneering phone to market.”
The Motorola ROKR E1 features a colour display for viewing album art, dual built-in stereo speakers and stereo headphones that also serve as a mobile headset with microphone. Music fans can randomly autofill or manually fill the mobile phone with playlists of their favourite music, audiobooks and Podcasts from their iTunes library via a USB connection. The Motorola ROKR E1 pauses music automatically when users take a call and offers the ability to listen to music while checking messages or snapping a photo. 
Pricing and Availability
For more information on product availability and pricing in each market, please visit
Motorola pioneered mobile technology in the 1930s with car radios and public safety radio networks, and space-to earth communication for the Apollo program.  In the 1980s, Motorola revolutionised personalised communications with the first commercial handheld cellular phone. Today, its new smart devices, networks, and software are making communications not just mobile, but seamless. Continuously redefining “the device formerly known as the mobile phone,” Motorola also leads the industry in design, with award-winning products like the iconic RAZR.  Motorola had sales of U.S. $31.3 billion in 2004.  For more information, please visit
Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPodportable music players and iTunes online music store.

What’s fascinating there — aside from the phone being “the ultimate convergence of mobile communications and music” is the way the two companies talk about themselves.

Motorola’s fortunes dipped markedly after the RAZR period, and its mobile business is now a part of the Google empire.

Apple’s gone from strength to strength in the same period, but that historical blurb is gone from its press releases; it now talks up what makes up the last sentence in that blurb far over concentrating on its computing businesses.