The ROKR E1 

Think back to 2005. All of us were running around with fresh installs of OS X 10.4 on our PowerBooks and iMac G4s and G5s while anticipating the company’s move to Intel-based processors.

In September 2005, Apple announced the iPod nano and their alliance with Cingular Wireless and Motorola, which produced the ROKR E1. The ROKR E1 was the first phone that was supported by iTunes — users could copy 100 tracks from their computers to the device, just like an iPod. The weird thing? Apple announced it on the same day that announced the iPod nano. While the iPod news made the headlines, the ROKR E1 grabbed a fair share of attention.

Engadget had the specs:

It’s going to sell for $249.99 with two-year service agreement. It’s tri-band GSM/GPRS (850/1800/1900 MHz), it has a 176 x 220 pixel, 262,000 color display, weighs 3.77 ounces, is  4.25 x 1.81 x .80-inches in size, has a talk time of 9 hours, a VGA camera, and Bluetooth.

It was set to be a halfway decent phone, but users were turned off by the non-iPod nature and hardware limitations of the ROKR E1.

Here’s a snippet from CNET’s review of the device:

The Motorola ROKR E1 takes a step toward integrating a usable audio jukebox into a functional cell phone, but the 100-song limit and the slow processor performance will disappoint iPod users looking to carry a single do-it-all device.

Mobiledia’s review wasn’t much kinder:

Featuring basic functionality, a sub-standard camera, and a typical set of applications, the ROKR’s features are mediocre. Even the focus of the phone, the iTunes software, was crippled; limiting the ROKR to only 100 songs. A byproduct of corporate negotiating, Apple didn’t want the ROKR to take away profits from its iPod portfolio.

MobileTracker wasn’t impressed either:

The biggest thing the Motorola ROKR E1 has going for it is the carrier deal with Cingular. Feature wise it just doesn’t innovate. Overall the device isn’t polished, from a USB 1 connection to extremely slow performance. Using the ROKR made me appreciate my iPod more than I did before, it is a thought out device that not only innovates but executes.
There is no compelling reason to use the ROKR E1 over a good [regular] phone and a separate music player unless you really cannot stand using multiple devices. You can get a RAZR from Amazon.com for free and snag a 512MB iPod Shuffle for $99 (or the new nano for $249 and have oodles of space). In fact, even if I bought a ROKR, I would still use an iPod to play music because it simply gives a superior music playing experience.

The ROKR E1’s failure fueled speculation that Apple was building their own phone. Engadget, in their iPhone review back in 2007:

About ten months later, under the shadow of the best-selling iPod nano, that ballyhooed device debuted – the ROKR E1 – a bastard product that Apple never put any weight behind, and that Motorola was quick to forget. The relationship between Apple and Motorola soon dissolved, in turn feeding the tech rumor mill with visions of a “true iPhone” being built by Apple behind the scenes.

Of course, that ended up being true, but the ROKR E1 was an unusual fumble for Apple. In fact, in the aforementioned “Decade’s 25 Biggest Tech Flops Slideshow,” CNET included only one Apple-related product — the ROKR E1. Here’s what they said about it:

The ROKR E1 was a big deal when it launched back in September of 2005. Rumors of a Motorola/Apple phone that incorporated iTunes had been circulating for months and when the phone was finally released, expectations were very high. Unfortunately, the whole iTunes experience was sluggish and Apple seemed to distance itself from the E1 (Motorola CEO Ed) Zander accused Apple of not supporting it.

But Apple didn’t stop there. The SLVR L7 came out as a replacement of the poor selling ROKR E1, but it too failed to succeed. It was the last of a short-lived, poorly-executed partnership that probably should have never made it past the drawing board.