I believe the first Sony Walkman, which was released on 1st July 1979, changed the way we listen to music forever. It was, after all, the first truly portable music player and Sony, not Apple, must be credited for the invention.
While reading about how the Walkman came to be, I couldn’t help but be amused by a few anecdotes that Sony founder Akio Morita narrates in his book, Made In Japan.
To begin, Sony employees thought the Walkman was a bad idea, and couldn’t visualise a future where people walked around with a cassette player and headphones. They went along with bossman Akio Morita’s instructions anyway, and after selling millions of Walkmans, I’m sure they’re glad they did.
Morita hated the name Walkman and wanted something more grammatically correct. Something like Walking Stereo. Thankfully, the name was already being featured in advertisements, so Sony couldn’t retract it. I wonder if ‘Walking Stereo’ would have ever made it to everyday lingo like Walkman did.
The first edition of the Walkman supported two headphone jacks because Sony thought listening to music was a shared activity. It’s only after launch that they realised how emo people can get about their music. So they made newer models with single jacks.
In a novel bid to promote the device, Sony deployed young couples to walk around Tokyo, listening to music and showing off their Walkmans. Today we have a fancy-ass term for this – experiential marketing.
The Walkman became a generic name for any cassette player in the 80s and the 90s. Leading to several knock-offs and imitations.
37 years later, the Walkman has made an appearance as a $1200 MP3 player. I dunno who Sony is trying to appeal to with this offering, and it may just be the end of a storied history for a revolutionary line of music players. This, of course, is my opinion, and it may not amount to much. What do you think will happen?
Aside: I’ve read in several places that Apple is notorious for making claims like ‘consumers don’t know what they want’ and ‘market research is overrated’, but I feel Morita and his team at Sony were the true pioneers who put this philosophy to action by making some mind-boggling electronics. Don’t believe me? Look at the list of gadgets Sony marketed before any other identifiable competitor:
solid-state TV sets
trinitron color TV
3.5 inch floppy disc
Mavica, the first filmless camera
These are the more recognisable ones, of course.