The magical emergence and evolution of Walkman to iPod is the outcome of applying clear thinking in generating ideas and profiting from them. There are underlying patterns beneath the magical success of Sony and Apple. Instead of chasing ideas popping out from the creative mind of a genius, we should focus on systematic innovative thinking.
Sony created the portable music market with its magical Walkman. However, after 25 years of its birth, Apple took over that market with iPod. The transition of the portable music market from Walkman to iPod appears to be magical indeed.
Walkman created two magical events. The show began with its emergence in 1978. The marriage between lightweight headphones with a compact music playback device led to Sony’s Walkman’s birth. It was an instant hit. Upon its introduction in 1979, Sony ran out of its entire stock of 30,000 within the first three months. However, Walkman did not target cabinet or shelf-top music players. Instead, it targeted nonconsumption. Music lovers could not use the conventional music player while they were driving, walking in the park, or sitting in the sports stadium. To address that unmet demand, there was no substitute for Walkman. In the intense competition, Sony kept apace with its rivals. In fact, Walkman was a synonym for the Sony brand. Till 1990, Sony’s Walkman retained a 50% market share in the U.S. and 46% in Japan. Sony also enjoyed a price premium of approximately $20 over rival offers.
However, Apple came up with the iPod and took over Walkman. It appears to be magical too. Besides Steve Jobs’s magical power of innovation, is there a way of interpreting Walkman’s evolution to iPod with the patterns underlying innovative thinking?
To get the job done better and technology ideas
As explained, to serve the non-consumption, the miniaturization of electronics empowered Sony to innovate Walkman. It emerged as a portable cassette player. However, the emergence of CD as a substitute to cassette to store music changed the technology core of Walkman. Sony made a seamless transition to release Walkman playing high-quality music from CDs.
By the late 1990s, the flash drive started growing as a substitute for cassettes or CDs to store music. Digital music storage standards, like MP3, also started gaining popularity. Hence, the MP3 player started emerging to replace Walkman playing music from CDs or cassettes. In 1998, the first portable digital audio player, MPMan, entered the market. South Korea’s Saehan Information Systems innovated it. Within the first year, Saehan sold 50,000 players globally.
Until the release of MPMan in 1998, the basic user interface and the appearance of portable music players did not change. Familiar buttons for play, stop, pause, fast-forward, reverse-forward, or skip to the previous/next song remained the same. However, the emergence of the MP3 players opened the opportunity of bringing innovation in music distribution. Instead of buying a cassette or CD loaded with music, the opportunity emerged to download music to an MP3 player. But the slow speed of dial-up Intent was taking too long to download music.
Latecomer Apple delivered integrated, easy to use innovation for helping customers to get jobs done far better
Sony showed a magical performance with Walkman by creating the portable music player market. Unlike Sony, Apple was anything but a first mover in the MP3 player market. During the iPod launch in 2001, there were approximately 50 portable mp3 players available in the U.S. market. How did Apple create the success of being a follower? Apple took advantage of both technology, system integration, and user interface design to help the music lovers quench their thirst far better than ever before.
Storage for offering large collection—a key driver to the evolution of Walkman to iPod
It began in leveraging the storage. Apple targeted to let users store far more music in iPod than 10 or twelve so that music lovers do not frequently run out of the stock. The iPod came out with the capacity to store 1000 music on its 5GM disk space. In order to let users avail themselves of that large collection, Apple faced the music downloading speed. The initial connectivity interface that Apple had taken hours to download 1000 music. Hence, Apple upgraded it. Besides, the slow speed of the Internet was a barrier. Hence, Apple waited to synchronize.
The user interface from large selection was a barrier to the evolution of Walkman to iPod
The next challenge was offering the interface to easily select the desired track from a collection of 1000. One by one, skipping to the previous/next by pressing a button would require, on average, 500 presses. This option of music selection alone could have been a nightmare for music lovers. Hence, Apple’s designer Jony Ive came up with a rotating dial. By the way, Apple did not invent it. Instead, Jony adopted this killer interface of iPod from pocket radio design. Apple also placed all other buttons on a circular ring around the dial. In the course of time, Apple transferred some of the interfaces requiring a physical button to menu options.
Easy to use user interface
It seems Apple’s design team pursed to reduce visibility and human interaction in user interface design thinking to generate useful ideas for the UI design of the iPod. As opposed to keeping UI elements of UPMan or Walkman as status quo, Apple focused on getting the job done better. They replaced mechanical and electro-mechanical features with software. Moreover, they produced and implemented ideas for delegating roles from humans to machine for reducing the complexity of using the product.
Music store iTune drove the evolution of Walkman to iPod
Upon having a nice easy to use iPod with a storage capacity of 1000 songs, users were facing the hurdle of finding a good online collection to download their preferred songs. This external issue was limiting the utility of the iPod. Hence, to offer an integrated system solution, Apple focused on its online music store–iTunes. In April 2003, Apple announced the iTunes Music Store. It was an online retail hub where customers could browse and purchase music for 99 cents per song (or $9.99 per album).
iTune’s network externality effect grew the collection to 1.5 million songs by 2005. By the end of 2009, Apple sold 8 billion songs. Although $800 million from the sale of 8 billion songs was trivial, the iTunes store gave the iPod legitimacy in a world of shady mp3 accessibility. Moreover, its externality effect was extremely high for $22 billion gained in iPod sales at that time.
Underlying patterns revealing from Walkman to iPod evolution
Apple took the storage technology advantage by offering a large stock of selection to music lovers. To leverage it, Apple had to address a number of technology and user interface issues. In generating useful ideas Apple focused on (i) jobs to be done better, (ii) leveraging technology progression and selectively advancing some of them, (iii) reducing visibility and human engagement in user interface design, (iv) offering integrated system solutions, (v) exploiting externality effects for creating monopolistic market power, and (vi) synchronizing with the unfolding of infrastructure and other external factors.
Hence, Walkman’s evolution to the iPod is not the outcome of the magical power of Steve Jobs. There are patterns in the design and strategy thinking of Apple. Instead of integrating randomly generated ideas from the minds of Steve Jobs or Jony Ive, Apple’s team followed systematic thinking in generating and fine tunning ideas for showing the magical performance in evolving Walkman to iPod.