After nearly three decades on the market, Sony quietly stopped sales of its Walkman portable cassette recorder in Japan on Friday. While the company will continue to sell the model in developing countries, its exit from the Japanese market seems to suggest its time is running out.
“There is still demand in certain regions, including emerging markets, but in Japan there has been a shift to other forms of recording media,” a spokesperson said of the company’s decision. Indeed, Sony itself did its part to speed up the death of the market it had all but created on its own.
Sony had pulled the cassette version of the Walkman from the US market several years ago as cassette sales plummeted and the compact disc and digital media took over as the primary forms of consumer entertainment consumption
The company did attempt to transfer the Walkman brand into the digital age, however missteps prevented the company from ever making any progress. Most notable among these was Sony’s insistence on using its own digital format — ATRAC — which in the face of MP3 never caught on among consumers.
Most will have fond memories of the device. Even though it was often clunky and it always seemed like the two AA batteries wouldn’t last longer than a day, it was the first viable alternative to personal portable music that wouldn’t disturb your neighbor on the bus.
How much did the Walkman influence the iPod? If the stories are right, quite a bit. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was reportedly fascinated by the device, and was given the one of the first models by Akio Morita, then Sony’s co-chairman.
Jobs took the device apart, the story goes, and studied how the device was put together. Although it’s never been directly said, the seeds for the iPod may have been planted that day some three decades ago.