In one of his recent postings, ZDNet blogger Jason O'Grady considers the reasons that Motorola's ROCKR -- a recently released handset that's been dubbed as the "iTunes phone" -- is getting a cold shoulder from consumers. From my perspective, while it absolutely deserves the cold shoulder, it's getting it for all the wrong reasons (more on that in a second). But setting the right reasons aside for a minute, I have to admit that when I first saw that the ROCKR was only capable of storing 100 songs, I knew it was in trouble.
After cell phones, portable digital music players (a.k.a. MP3 players, even though that's not the format of the music that's always played on them) are probably the next most carried digital gadgets on the planet. And, for a certain class of digerati -- in fact the majority -- it only makes sense to find a way to merge the two into one device. Throw typical PDA functionality in for good measure and you end up with something they should probably call a SmartMP3Phone -- a device that, if fully leveraged for all its benefits, would probably suck enough amps in an hour to cause your house lights to flicker (one reason they're a challenge to build). Even so, I know plenty of people that would carry a few extra batteries for the right SmartMP3Phone.
The right SmartMP3Phone, by the way, has at least a gig of memory built-in with room for more by way of an SD I/O expansion slot and uses hardware rather than software to lock its display and buttons so that you don't accidentally dial 911 or something while it's in your pocket. [Editor's Note: that was a dig at my Windows Mobile 2003-based AudioVox XV6600 smartphone which has a software utility for disabling all of the buttons and the touch-screen display so they aren't accidentally activated while the device is in its belt-holster or my pocket. My handset is loaded with Good Technology's wireless messaging solution for synching with an Exchange server. For some reason that Good has so far been unable to isolate, its software keeps overriding the button lock setting, thus causing my battery to drain in about half a day. I'm sure if I send my phone to Good, they'll be able to figure out what's going on -- either in their software or in the Windows Mobile 2003 operating system -- and fix it. But, at this point, I think that smartphone designers are better off going with something hardware-based that cannot be overridden rather than software-based.]
OK, digression over.
The right SmartMP3Phone should also be able to get its music from anywhere, play that music, and transfer it to my other digital music players. I call this concept "frictionless digital media." The ROCKR fails miserably on these fronts as well. For reasons O'Grady attempts to explain, a device nicknamed the "iTunes phone" cannot get its music (at least not directly) from Apple's iTunes Music Store (IMS). Let me repeat that: a device called the "iTunes phone" that has a clear path (by way of Cingular's wireless network) to Apple's IMS can't actually go there and get music. To get music onto the phone, one must have a copy of iTunes on their Mac or PC, use it to buy the music, and transfer that music (but no more than 100 songs) to the iTunes phone (taken from the book: How to restore friction to a digital world, Chapter One: You can't get there from here).
Given that the ROCKR is the first handset to really get promoted as one part phone, one part digital music player (ps: any Windows Mobile-based phone can do the same thing and probably store more music), buyers of it would probably want to know that if they're already purchasing music from Yahoo!'s Music Subscription service or Napster-to-Go, that they'll be able to play that music on your cool new ROCKR phone. Thanks to the incompatibility between Apple's Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology found in the ROCKR phone (known as Fairplay, it's also found in iPods and iTunes software) and the Microsoft DRM technology (PlaysForSure, but should be "PlaysForSuren't") used to restrict playback of songs purchased through Yahoo or Napster or any one of the other PlaysForSuren't-compliant online music stores, you can't do that either. Well, you can if you burn the songs to CD, then re-digitize them to MP3 (losing some quality along the way), essentially removing DRM protection (taken from the book: How to restore friction to a digital world, Chapter Two: Top ten time-consuming ways to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
Now that you're stuck with your ROCKR phone (try backing out of that Cingular contract), you decide to go back to your PC, download iTunes, and buy (for the second time) the FairPlay-wrapped version of 70 of your favorite songs that you've already paid for through one of the PlaysForSuren't-based online music stores. You buy 30 new songs that you haven't previously purchased (totally 100 songs at 99 cents each, that's $99 dollars). You suddenly realize that part of your music collection is in iTunes and the other part is Microsoft's PlaysForSuren't-compliant Windows Media Player and you decide you want to make a playlist that includes music from both. Not only that, you want to transfer that playlist to the digital music server that's attached to your home theatre system. Sorry Charlie. Why do you think the "R" in DRM stands for "Restrictions?" (taken from the book: How to restore friction to a digital world, Chapter Three: Not Anytime, Not Anywhere, Not Any Device).
Fed up, you sell the phone on eBay and switch your Cingular service over to the new Motorola Q when it comes out in 2006. Naturally, since both phones are made by the same company, the music you bought for one works on the other (taken from the book: How to restore friction to a digital world, Chapter Four: Best incompatibility practices for destroying customer loyalty).
Get the picture? Do yourself and the world a favor. Declare InDRMpendence. Now. Before it's way too late.