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Sony would say No to Walkman today

Sony is “not convinced there is a large enough market to justify bringing out a tablet,”

via Sony Considering Developing Tablet Computer to Compete With Apple’s IPad – Bloomberg.

I wonder what current Sony management would have said when the Walkman would have been presented to them in 1978 by audio-division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara.

The Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979:

The original Sony Walkman

The Walkman introduced a change in music listening habits by allowing people to carry music with them.

There was a tiny market for such implements in 1978, promoted to professional journalists.  Sony even had a product called the Pressman and marketed it exclusively to reporters. These recorders lacked stereo sound and were very expensive. They also used (typically) microcassettes, which had no support from record companies.

With the limited choices presented to consumers, the most popular cassette tape players were either home stereos or car players.

I’m sure Sony’s current management  would also have been unconvinced that there was a large enough market to justify bringing out a consumer-grade portable cassette player.

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  • ScottJ

    I think you have more of a point than you realize.

    Because Sony middle- and upper-management did say "No" to the Walkman, and it took charismatic founder Akio Morita pushing it with the full force of his personality to make it happen [cf., http://www.gadflyonline.com/archive/August99/arch…. Basically, he desired it for his own uses (he traveled constantly) and saw its promise as a product when conventional marketing research tools did not.

    So once again we're confronted with a case of world-changing recombinant innovation vs. Henry Ford's comment about customers wanting a faster horse. How to bottle this thing called "vision" is something business schools haven't figured out. In fact, if the palpable tensions between the swaggering entrepreneurship-program players at my own alma mater, USC, and the folks they needled as ivory-tower academics in the rest of the school are any indication, the business world has a way to go before it comes to grips with the dichotomy. Fact is, business needs both types. Certainly innovation does. And the tension is a good thing… when it doesn't sum to fatal inertia. Must it take a Morita to bulldoze through that?

    The parallels between Sony's story and what we see in the tech world today are evident… as are the cautions inherent in Sony's gradual fade from leadership (and even relevance) since Morita's departure after a stroke in 1994. To my eye, the post-Morita Sony has been typified by two strategies:

    1) Innovation efforts limited to developing proprietary technologies of little merit (ranging from odd memory-stick formats to proprietary audio encodings to rootkit-based DRM on CDs), and

    2) Acquisition of content houses, which had the odd impact of feeding back into the protectionist ethic of (1), in opposition to the needs and desires of its hardware customers.

    Observing that, we know where at least some of the traps lie. But how much of Sony's decline is simply because Akio Moritas are in short supply?