Motorola's Rokr is not living up to the hype that accompanied the recent launch of the first iTunes mobile phone, according to an American Technology Research (ATR) study that indicates consumers might have been misled by the market blitz that accompanied the launch of the new handheld.
ATR telecom analyst Albert Lin said that, on the basis of information from resellers, retailers, and call-center staff at Cingular, which is selling the device, the return rate for the Rokr thus far is three to five times higher that what a carrier typically gets with the launch of a new phone.
Not an iPod
"Sales were sluggish until the TV ads started running, but while those ads drove interest in the Rokr, they led people to believe the phone was more like an iPod than it is," Lin said.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Motorola CEO Ed Zander conceded as much, saying, "We got off to a little bit of a rough start. ... People were looking for an iPod and that's not what it is. We may have missed the marketing message there."
Among the issues affecting consumer satisfaction, Lin suggested, was that Motorola did not make clear that the Rokr's storage capacity was limited to 100 songs, whereas iPod users can put 10 times that many tunes on their devices.
Lin also cited software bugs in the phones that made it difficult to operate the iTunes functions, and the fact that maintaining a playlist on the Rork requires more work on the part of users.
Minimal Impact on Motorola
Echoing those concerns was Yankee Group analyst Nitin Gupta, who recently received a Rokr for evaluation. "The marketing message creates false expectations that this works like an iPod," he said. The 100-song limit is a significant issue, he added, as is the fact that downloads are extremely sluggish.
"I'm not surprised they are getting a lot of returns, because the marketing message is that this is an iPod-like device," said Gupta.
ATR's Lin noted that Motorola already has sold 250,000 Rokrs, which he said is a good number for a first-generation product. But given that Motorola sells some 40 million phones each quarter, the Rokr's overall impact is minimal, he said.
"What's more important for them is the launch later this year of their own iRadio music service," said Lin.
While there are MP3-enabled phones already are on the market, none carry the heavyweight recognition and customer loyalty associated with the name Apple.
The key to the launch of the Rokr phone, said analysts, was not so much the technological challenge of combining a phone and a digital-music player, but the partnership between Apple and a major wireless service provider like Cingular.
Nokia has unveiled a Windows Media-based mobile that supports most popular digital music formats and lets users access subscription services from Napster and other music outlets.
Lin said it is not in Apple's best interest to replicate the iPod with the Rokr, as that would hamper sales of the leading mobile music player. "But they need to improve their relationship with Motorola for this product to succeed."