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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
iPod phone hybrid divides experts
The Rokr E1 phone, Motorola

Apple's announcement of a phone that can use iTunes and play music has left the industry divided.

Some pundits said the device compared badly with existing iPod music players in both its looks and onboard features.

Others questioned which group of consumers it was aimed at and whether people would be willing to pay a premium for such a device.

But some thought that the combination of Apple and Motorola could turn the gadget into a winner.

Features first

The iTunes phone, or Motorola Rokr E1 to give it its full name, was unveiled by Steve Jobs at an invitation-only event in San Francisco on 7 September.

"You've probably heard about this," Mr Jobs said introducing the device, alluding to the rampant speculation that preceded the announcement.

Tri-band GSM/GPRS phone
VGA camera, 4x zoom, flash and video recorder
Capped 100 song capacity
512 megabyte memory card
iTunes access via dedicated button
Display: 262k colour screen
Rhythm lights
Stereo headset and speakers
Talktime: Up to 9 hours
108 x 46 x 20.5mm
Audio formats: Midi, MP3, Wav, and AAC

"The way we think of the phone, really, is that it is an iPod shuffle right on your phone," Mr Jobs said.

Like the iPod shuffle the Rokr phone lacks a click wheel. It can hold a maximum of 100 songs even if a memory card with a larger capacity is used.

This limit is thought to have been imposed so the gadget does not cannibalise sales of full-blown iPods.

Songs can only be downloaded to the Rokr phone from a PC or Mac. Software supplied with the phone synchronises it with iTunes software running on a companion machine.

A dedicated button on the phone takes users to the music playing menu which looks and works like its equivalent on iPods.

The phone also vibrates in time to music and coloured lights on its side strobe to the sounds being played.

Design guide

Analysts pointed out that despite Apple's involvement with the device it remains very much a Motorola device. The name and styling of the phone bears little resemblance to the sleeker iPod family.

Ipod Nano
Steve Jobs also announced a new iPod
"It doesn't have the emotive cachet that the Razr or the iPod has," said Yankee Group analyst John Jackson. "When you whip this out in the bar, nobody's going to say, 'That's a cool device.'"

Motorola was keen to stress that the Rokr E1 is only the first in a series of devices. But Motorola will have to work fast to produce successors that can match the bigger memories, better cameras and less restrictive music playing abilities of handsets produced by rivals.

What sets the phone apart is its connection with iTunes which is currently closed to other devices.

But industry figures were unsure whether this would prove to be a big selling point.

"I'm not convinced that consumers will be ready to fork out 200 for a mobile phone handset as there are phones out there offering similar capabilities at a much lower cost through competitive tariffs," said Anthony Ball, director of mobile phone comparison service OneCompare.

"Apple will need to team up with a competitive network provider to add value to the product," he said.

Others thought that the Apple/Motorola combination was a potent one.

"If this phone is easy to use, at this price I think it will fly off the shelves," said Ed Snyder, analyst at Charter Equity.

Analysts believe that as the first in a line of phones, Apple and Motorola are hoping the Rokr E1 will define a new category of gadget like the iPod did.

Paul Lee, technology and telecoms research director at Deloitte, said the release of the phone raised all kinds of issues for mobile operators.

"It is worth remembering that the biggest downloaded music service is not MP3 downloads, rather it is ring tones, which still outsells, globally, MP3 downloads by a factor of 10 to 1," he said.

"Further, an operator is often able to charge more for a relatively small sized ring tone than it can charge for a technically challenging mp3 download," he added.

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