Did Apple Sabotage the ROKR?

An artificial limit of 100 songs? What the heck? Motorola CEO, Ed Zander doesn’t think anyone needs more than that…at least according to a rant that he spewed when the ROKR went over like, well, a rock. But was Zander’s frustration directed toward the poor reception his new iTunes-capable phone got – or at Apple?

The iPod has been a force that has brought about the second coming of Apple. Millions sold in each of the past couple of years. New models introduced seemingly every month. White ear buds adorning every other person on the streets. The “Halo Effect”.

What could possibly topple the reign of Apple’s iPod? Microsoft hasn’t been successful in championing any competitive products. Who else could? What else could? While every other person may be sporting white ear buds, just about EVERYone has got a cell phone in their pocket. MP3 capable cell phones aren’t a new idea, but they’ve been around long enough that it seems like high time they really take off. And what then? What happens to Apple’s mighty iPod when everyone’s cell phone is playing music on the go?

A couple weeks back, WIRED ran an article detailing the start to ‘finish’ of the Motorola ROKR iTunes phone, as well as all planning and interaction between Motorola, Apple, and Cingular – the eventual carrier to pick up the iTunes phone. Definitely go read the article. There are some great insights as to the obstacles and hurdles that stood in the way of the “iTunes phone”.

So obviously cell phones pose a valid threat to the venerable iPod. Whatever is Apple to do? How about get an iTunes enabled cell phone on the market and lure people towards the phone version of their favorite mp3 player? Sounds like a great idea, and that’s just what they went a head and did with a friendly partnership with Motorola. Unfortunately, Motorola found out that Apple will have things their way, period.

If you’ve already popped over and read the WIRED article by this point, you found that Apple mandated the artificial 100 song limit on the ROKR. Why would they possibly do that? There doesn’t seem to be a good, or real explanation in WIRED’s article. Come launch day, a 1,000 song iPod nano was announced which subsequently trounced the ROKR in sales and popularity.

So try this on for size:
Could Apple have possibly gone into the ROKR project with a hidden agenda to sabotage the final product’s success? Why not? It may serve to sway public opinion of mp3 cell phones. If the Apple iTunes cell phone flops, how great could mp3 cell phones really be? Might potential mp3 cell phone buyers take a step back and choose to stick with carrying their iPod in tandem with their cell phones? It might be worth another few million iPod units sold before someone comes along with the killer mp3 phone. Maybe. Maybe?

Well today Motorola announced a new version of the RAZR which will be iTunes capable. There’s no confirmation (that I’ve been able to find) that there’s a 100 song limit imposed on the forthcoming RAZR. Might it be the late-to-the-party hit that Motorola was hoping for in the ROKR? Possible. Much more likely I’d say.

Is any of this really plausible? Possibly. Probably not. It’s largely based off my wild imagination and a slightly suspicious psyche. But you can’t argue that Apple – at the very least – made a poor decision in releasing a mobile iTunes app that’s limited to 100 songs. How could that possibly be a recipe for success?

What do you think?