How many did you own? Sony's Walkman reached its 25th birthday today. Thankfully not renamed the Soundabout as it nearly was outside Japan, even if you somehow managed to not end up with a Walkman, you knew someone who was showing off the great new tape based gadget at school, you knew its name and its trademark tss-tss-tss for the high frequency sound leakage.
The name has now spread across tape, DAT, Minidisc, portable CD and ATRAC MP3 formats over the past 25 years, not to mention at least one dictionary. The format spread accounts for 340 million across tape, CD and MD.
On July 10th the Network Walkman NW-HD1 will debut with credit card dimensions and half-inch thickness. Sony's own ATRAC format is employed once more, with an aim to store 13,000 songs in acceptable quality. Like the iPod users will be "zoned" and restricted to song download from the Sony Connect download store. We'd hope that NetMD-style software was sold with the player allowing transfer of any previously owned music into ATRAC however, as it would be madness to expect consumers to junk their CD collections unless that had already happened out of choice.
20Gb is the miniature hard disk capacity, developed by Toshiba- the only non-Sony element to the hardware. As Apple makes 40Gb iPods we expect this launch figure to double in a similar way. However the American launch price will be US$90 lower than the iPod, leaving new buyers perhaps disgruntled at the iPod's after sales policy to decide whether that extra 20 Gigabytes is worth the $90, or whether to go with Sony.
Sony hopes that trebling battery life to 30 hours and the ability to drop the unit from a height of 1metre (ie if it fell out of your pocket while running) will become killer selling points against the iPod in conjunction with the Walkman name. As it's staggering the launches to August for America and September for Europe we'll have to wait and see.
While the device will be shockingly new and technically accomplished, it remains to be seen how well Sony Connect can establish itself, which will directly influence the speed of sales, especially in this mobile phone-inspired "dump to upgrade" purchasing model for the players. On anecdotal evidence alone we see many more people with those trademark white iPod earphones on the buses and tubes than any other make for any other Walkman. So Happy Birthday and good luck to Sony, and we'll keep bringing you the news of this would-be comeback model for Sony, a company forced to cut 20,000 jobs to restructure and maintain profits as the PS2's sales slowed in Japan.