Without the Sony Walkman, which started as a compact-for-its-time personal cassette player unlike anything on the mass market, there perhaps would be no iPod or Zune these days. Throughout the history of personal audio, the Walkman line has paved the way as each new audio technology came along, only to fall behind Apple in recent years in the personal audio market. Here are some highlights of the history of the Sony Walkman.
The First Mass-Marketed Personal Tape Player
The Walkman earned its name and began its long history as the first successful personal tape player small enough to be taken on the go with headphones for personal listening. Sony created the Walkman, according to historian Tom Hormby, at a personal request from Sony's honorary chairman for his personal use.
Personal tape players at the time were on the market but featured record functions and typically used a mini-cassette format. Their electronics and pricing were marketed to journalists, not marketable to the average consumer. Due to its price and friendly image, the first Sony Walkman, the TPS-L2 personal cassette player, changed the history of personal audio.
The Cassette Walkman Evolves
Throughout the 1980s, the Walkman continued to evolve and sell millions of units, especially in Japan and the United States. The Walkman became such a part of the history of personal audio that the name "Walkman" became synonymous with a personal cassette, and later CD, player.
CD "Discman" Walkman, MiniDisc Walkman
Sony was right at the top of the personal CD player market since the medium's early history, launching the Discman (later rebadged CD Walkman) in 1984. The Discman products were so successful that the Discman name, like the Walkman, became the generic term to refer to such a product. Sony CD Walkman products to this day are a bit more expensive than most competitors but are known for superior sound quality and durability.
Before the iPod and other personal MP3 players, the MiniDisc Walkman was king. MiniDisc had the advantages of its tiny size and recordability by connecting the MiniDisc Walkman to a PC.
Around the time of the first generation Apple iPod, Sony had its own HDD drive-based personal media player but made a big error in judgment by promoting the older ATRAC audio file format. When MP3 files caught on big and the Sony players of the day did not support them or needed a conversion, Apple's big chance at stealing the bulk of the personal audio player business was at hand.
The Walkman Phone
Today, Sony makes Walkman-branded MP3 players that have had modest success, but the real Walkman money comes from good sales of the Sony Ericcson Walkman phones. While sales numbers can't equal the iPhone, Sony Ericcson does particularly well selling Walkman phones with good music capabilities as cheaper devices that don't necessarily have as many features as the more-expensive iPhone.
Sony-branded Walkman players still sell in steady numbers as CD players, flash memory-based MP3 players and cell phones, as the Sony name is still associated with high quality and durability.
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