Sony's Walkman Disappears With a Whimper

Few tears are shed as most editions of the iconic device are retired

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Few tears were shed as Sony announced plans to shelve most editions of its once ubiquitous Walkman cassette player. The now-unwieldy device, which debuted in 1979, was credited with beginning the portable music player craze and ushering the transition of music fans "from listeners into users." But many columnists, instead of penning fond farewells to the iPod's ancestor, are bidding the device good riddance, asking why it wasn't discontinued "years ago." Still, there were a more than a few who waxed nostalgic about those tinny headphones blaring their favorite '80s tunes.

  • A Very Subdued Goodbye for the Device  The Wall Street Journal's Daisuke Wakabayashi wonders how the iconic device managed to disappear so inconspicuously, especially in Japan. "Perhaps there was no raucous send-off in Japan, because the Walkman has come to symbolize, fairly or unfairly, how Sony relinquished its portable music player lead to Apple Inc.’s iPod on its ways to taking a backseat to Steve Job’s seemingly endless string of hits....To be sure, most consumer electronics products disappear with barely a whimper....However, one can not help but think the Walkman and its incredible success deserved more than a gadget’s equivalent of a gold watch and a pat on the back."
  • 'The Best Symbol of the Demise of Sony'  Douglas A. McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street pens a eulogy for the Walkman and, in turn, Sony. "There will be many histories of Sony written and most will question why the company was not more aggressive to court music companies and create its own iTunes store." Unfortunately, McIntyre argues, "Its digital version of the Walkman came to market too late....The burial of the Walkman signals the death of Sony’s own ambitions in the portable multimedia device industry. It will be a case study at business schools for decades to teach how a company can lose a market it has dominated."
  • It Used to Be Amazing, Today It's 'Kind of a Joke'  Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall briefly recalls 1979. "It wasn't just that the device was small, though it was -- not that much bigger than the size of a cassette itself. It was that the headphones were so small and managed to provide -- right up against your ear -- a surprising degree of audio fidelity. Remember, holding a boombox up on your shoulder wasn't just an affectation. It was the only real way to listen to music on the go."
  • We Wouldn't Have the iPod Without It  After making the requisite quips about the Walkman ("at least it outlived disco") CNet's Greg Sandoval notes that the devices designers "likely influenced" the eventual concept of the iPod. "[Steve] Jobs took portable music to a new level, one where even [Sony] couldn't compete. Jobs wrapped his offering around a cohesive and as yet unbeatable combination of hardware, software, and digital retail. Sony knew hardware but was at best so-so in retail and a total disaster at developing software (see Sony Connect).Some have speculated that Sony's failure to keep up in a segment that the company created was one of the reasons it has given the Walkman such a quiet send off."
  • 'Enough Nostalgia. Let's Recall the Bad Times.' NPR's Jacob Ganz remembers the music players with little fondness. "Walkman was all about smaller and cheaper: headphones were light, but breakable. You could hear your music on the go; so could everyone else, since the speakers in the headphones were so bad that you had to crank the volume." It also had the interesting effect of turning "music into a drug, boiled down into capsules that were lower in purity but easier to acquire and manipulate. The device itself may have been too rigid and flawed to survive changing times, but the Walkman changed us from listeners into users."
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