In the wake the new iPhone 3G S and Palm Pre buzz, last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Sony Walkman. When it launched in 1979, the Walkman redefined the way people listened to music. It didn't stop there: Sony sold more than 385 million Walkmans worldwide and to this day, continues to market CD- and cassette-based Walkmans.
However, the company has been losing its edge in the portable music device category since the advent of the MP3. In fact, according to the AP article, “Sony toils as Walkman hits 30th anniversary,” the company lost $1.02 billion at the end of fiscal year 2008. Despite Sony’s attempts to gain back a piece of the audio player market, the company continues to be outdone by Apple, which by contrast, has sold more than 210 million iPods alone worldwide in the past eight years alone (more than 1/2 of Sony's 30 year total).
Given Sony's legacy of dominance, what are the chances they'll be able to stage a comeback? Sony has made a few unsuccessful attempts to even out the playing field, most recently with the launch of Sony Ericsson Mobile Phones. Let's take a look at another company in a similar situation: until the launch of the Palm Pre, Palm was like Sony in that the company hadn't launched a successful product since it caused a substantial shift in the PDA market with the Palm Pilot – arguably the most innovative gadget of its time.
Now, while it’s still too early to tell, the Palm Pre is considered by many reviewers, including Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal (see review here), to be the iPhone’s most powerful competitor thus far. So, do you think Sony, like Palm, has the ability to redefine itself in the portable music category? Could this be the consumer electronics comeback story we're craving?
We'd love to hear what you think. In the meantime, check out how a 13-year old UK resident feels about his vintage Walkman, “Giving up my iPod for a Walkman.” (Hint: It's not quite the electronic marvel he's used to, but suited his father just fine.)
– Contributed by Chantal LeBoulch. Follow her @cleboulch