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Walkman@40: A timeline of the listening devices that led to the smartphone

Natasha Rego

Remember the beginning of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’? It was pure nostalgia when Chris Pratt (as Peter Quill / Star Lord) shimmied into the dark cavern dancing to the tunes on his Sony Walkman.

The Walkman he carried was the TPS-L2 model, the first ever mass-produced portable music device, released 40 years ago. Since then, Sony has sold over 200 million cassette players and over 400 million portable audio players.

The Walkman changed our lives. You didn’t have to fight with the rest of the family over the playlist. You didn’t have to share. Most importantly, you could listen to your tunes on the move — on the bus, between classes, while jogging or working out.

It started a revolution that has since seen the death of the music player, as well as the tape / CD. Our music still moves with us, but it’s now in the cloud, created, distributed, and bookmarked digitally, most of it via four platforms — YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and Amazon Music.

“The entire manufacture cost has been cut,” says Vinod Bhanushali who is president of marketing, publishing and music acquisition at T-Series, the music record label and film production company. “Music is also a lot more affordable, and much of it is available for free.”

“You don’t have to do any of the physical work, like we did in the past with producing CDs and distributing them ourselves,” says member of the independent band ‘A Vinter’, Sagar Rao, which releases its songs online, including on Spotify. “For independent artists, the apps are a great way of reaching out to people across the globe.”

1963: Audio cassettes

Dutch electronics giant Philips released the magnetic audio cassette, intended for journalists and secretaries to use in dictation machines. But it was soon used much, much more for music. Boom boxes meant you could take your music with you for the first time, as long as you didn’t mind the stares.

1979: The Walkman

Tired of carrying around a jumbo cassette player on business trips, co-founder Sony, Masaru Ibuka instructed his R&D team to develop a small stereo player for cassette tapes. They sold their entire initial stock of 30,000 units of the iconic blue-and-grey TPS-L2 model in the first three months. From Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ to the ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ soundtrack, it would follow us everywhere for decades.

Sony co-founder Akio Morita, meanwhile, worried that the device might be seen as selfish, for a brief while produced Walkmans with a second headphone jack. Production of the Walkman ceased in Japan in 2009.

1984: The Discman

Philips and Sony joined forces to develop the compact disc, or CD, in 1982. Sony followed this up with the DiscMan. It came and went in the blink of an eye. It was not as rugged as the Walkman, didn’t run as smoothly, and was too expensive for most markets.

1998: MP3 players

The world’s first MP3 player was created by South Korea-based Saehan Information Systems. It was called the MPMan and sold over 50,000 units in the first year. But the slow speeds and high cost of dial-up internet meant downloading music took hours; and the primitive navigation meant listeners had to click through songs one at a time.

2001: The iPod

It was essentially an MP3 player, but the Apple device’s four-way navigation and iTunes platform meant you could manage your music better; and broadband made access fast and easy. Newer devices added touchscreens and wifi.

2007 onwards

Apple released the iPhone, which was quickly followed by other smartphones that let you work, play and unwind on the move. No one needs a music device any more, just as we don’t need cameras. Or calendars. Or clocks.

Your smartphone lets you listen to music, watch TV, create and manage vast libraries. And data is virtually free, at least so far in India. You can subscribe or stream for free, compile playlists or let YouTube do it for you.

(HT Media)

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