From Walkman to smartphones: How portable music has evolved – Times of India
The Walkman: Where it all started
The Sony Walkman was introduced to the world on July 1, 1979 and was perhaps one of the first lifestyle gadget. The millennials might not be able to relate to the phenomenon – and it was truly a phenomenon that lasted for close to two decades – but the Walkman was a device that and made you ‘cool’. From Timbuktu to Trivandrum, the Walkman was what the Apple iPod became in the early 2000s: a device the cool kids carried and something which everyone wanted. Sony sold over 400 million units of WalkMan and officially retired it in 2010. While a host of brands made portable audio cassette players, they were all referred to as the Walkman.
The Discman years: Hit and miss
Five years after launching the Walkman, Sony introduced the Discman — a portable CD player. The Discman came nowhere close to the popularity of the Walkman because CDs were expensive to buy and cumbersome to carry around. Even though CDs were around for sometime, they never really achieved the mass level of popularity of audio cassettes. The Discman, in theory, was supposed to be the cooler version of Walkman but its sales never really peaked.
The era of MP3 players: Music on the go
It was in 1997, when South Korean company Saehan Information Systems launched the world’s first MP3 player. The flash-based MP3 player came in 32MB and 64MB capacity, which meant you could store 6 or 12 songs on it. It also had a LCD screen that told users what song was playing. Samsung too threw its hat in in the MP3 ring in 1999 by launching Yepp, its series of portable music players. Reportedly, the Yepp stood for “young, energetic, passionate people” — Samsung never confirmed the acronym though. Other brands like Creative too joined the MP3 bandwagon. As people moved more into the digital world and there was no space for the Discmans and Walkmans of the world. MP3 players had arrived but didn’t take that quantum leap, till 2001. It’s perhaps forgotten in the annals of history but Microsoft too launched an iPod-clone called Zune in 2006 but it didn’t find too many takers.
Apple iPod: The game-changer of portable music players
“You can fit your whole music library in your pocket,” said Steve Jobs while introducing the iPod in 2001. Storage capacity, however, wasn’t the iPod’s talking point. It was the sleek design and ease-of-use that made iPod wildly popular. In the first 14 months since its launch, Apple had sold close to 600,000 iPods. In 2003, iTunes Music Store became online and the iPod really started flying off the shelves. Apple made several design iterations to the iPod and released a new model almost every year, and they were lapped up. In 2004 alone, Apple had sold close to 8.2 million units of the iPod. The iPod revolutionised the portable music players — just like Sony had done with the Walkman. Even though Samsung had launched the first phone — SPHM100 — in 2000 to come with a built-in MP3 player, the iPod was a status symbol.
The smartphone revolution: Streaming and more
Phones had built-in MP3 players for many years but it was in 2007 when the iPhone came, they became instruments for music as well. The whole process of transferring songs on phones was cumbersome but MP3 inspired phones were quite popular. Sony had a range called the Walkman for phones as well. Samsung too bet big on music-based phones. But it all changed when apps arrived. Thanks to faster internet speeds, you didn’t have to download songs anymore and store them on phone. Music streaming apps — a rather recent phenomena — have now changed how people listen to music on the go. So much so that there are not many portable music players any more — Apple still sells the iPod touch but it seems like a matter of time till its discontinued. The do-it-all ubiquitous smartphone is now the portable music player for many out there.
The role of headphones in portable music
Headphones too have come a long way and have changed how people consume music. The innovations in headphones, earphones and wireless earbuds mean that people like to rely more on their smartphones to listen to music. From the AirPods to noise-cancelling tech that has evolved makes it easier to listen to music on the go.