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PHONES / MP3 PLAYER

30 Years On What Went Wrong With The Sony Walkman

By David Richards | Thursday | 02/07/2009

Today should have been a glorious day for Sony, because on this day in 1979, Sony presented us with the Walkman which, at the time, was a step up from the hand held radio, another hero product for Sony.

However, unfortunately Sony isn't the company it once was. Instead, the Walkman has been trounced and the iPod is the new king of the portable music market.

Like a lot of things these days at Sony, the company failed to stay in touch with what consumers wanted - which in the case of the iPod Vs the Walkman was simply software and ease of use.



When the Walkman was first launched I was working on A Current Affair and I remember one of the crews who had been in Japan coming back and talking about this stunning new piece of sound gear.

As part of the launch hype Sony gave away the Walkman to various celebrities and asked them to try it. Magazine photographs of young pop stars listening to a Walkman suddenly started to appear in the media.

The popularity of the Walkman spread by word of mouth. The initial batch of 30,000 units sold out by the end of August 1979, and thereafter production levels had to be constantly raised to meet consumer demand. For the next six months, shops were consistently selling out, and retailers' previous sceptical over the saleability of the Walkman was replaced with pleas for more supplies.

In 2001 Steve Jobs, in what was literally an overnight launch, destroyed the Walkman, with the launch one single product, the iPod - a mix of hard drive, software and simple design. Since then, Sony has struggled because suddenly their lack of thinking and failure to develop software was exposed.  

Apple recognised that consumers wanted a lot more than a pretty gadget. They wanted functionality, ease of use features that Sony had failed to deliver. Today, the heart and soul of the iPod is the software that delivers for consumers several capabilities including easy internet access to download songs, easy management of music and video's across both their iPod and PC.


Why Sony could not see this is not a surprise.

Hardware centric, Sony is struggling today because of a management culture that put hardware design over software functionality.

Take the Sony Playstation Vs the Nintendo Wii. In this case, it was a simple controller and software that appealed to the mass market vs. niche gamers that saw the Nintendo Wii swamp sales of Sony's Playstation 3 gaming console - even with a Blu-ray player thrown in.

Today, Sony is struggling with the company now trying to turn themselves into a networking company that will compete with the likes of Xbox Live and other organisations like Cisco that are planning to launch major content networks.

Today, those original Walkman portable stereos are long gone with Sony pushed into single digit market share in the portable music market up alongside players like Samsung, Creative and Philips. 

The Walkman can be credited with being the concept founder of MP3 players and Bluetooth headsets that we have today. Unfortunately Sony, as a brand, is struggling  against some new kids on the block as well as some old hands like Cisco who are tipping billions into audio visual technology as well as networking and content.

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