From the Walkman to the iPod: Mobile Music Throughout the Years

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Sky Waddell-Brittle

Luna Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Around School Editor

It is easy to take for granted the agility of music streaming apps such as Apple Music or Spotify, however, music was not always this feasibly accessible. A long history of precedent devices helped generate the music apparatuses of today.

The Sony Walkman was an instantaneous hit as it fit perfectly with the aerobics and jogging activities trending at the time. A miniature cassette was designed to clip onto a belt and be listened to with the accompanying pair of headphones.

After a disappointing first month of sales, the Walkman went on to become one of Sony’s most successful product lines of all time. It is estimated that about 200 million people bought the Walkman from the first day it was released until its last day, on October 22, 2010, when Sony announced a cease in the manufacturing of the device. To put that into perspective, when the iPhone 11 came out, its’ sales numbers were approximately 37.7 million (just ⅕ of the Walkman’s sales).

The Compact Disks (CDs) replaced the Walkman. While chunkier and more inconvenient to walk around with, it made its own imprint in the course of music by improving the sound quality of mobile music. Once again, the Japanese-based company Sony was the first to put their product on the market, consistently wrong-footing their competitors. The Sony Discman made its appearance in November of 1984. By the early 2010s, with new technologies flourishing, such as streaming audio and digital downloads, the use of the CD steadily declined. Professor Alexander Sucheck, an AP Spanish teacher at CRLS, explains that “the portable CD player allowed me to feel like I was in a music video, like MTV. I could walk around the street and listen to the music that I chose and I liked.”

A notable change in the evolution of music is how individualized it has become.”

The MP3 followed suit as a small handheld device, which allowed people to store music files in an MP3 format. Its appearance on the market in the early 1990s was a bust, with sales plummeting. But in 1997, Tomislav Uzelac of Advanced Multimedia Products introduced a much more user friendly version of the MP3, which catapulted its sales. Their originality was in their smaller size and new form of storing music. The MP3 was able to strip out a lot of the sounds in the music that our ears cannot hear, as well as reducing its file sizes using complicated mathematical algorithms. Thanks to the smaller size of files, people had the ability to download and email MP3 files, which created the foundation for the sharing of digital music today.  Unfortunately, the MP3 player’s  success was short-lived, as Apple released its’ first ever iPod in 2001.

Not only did the iPod allow its users for a more convenient and comfortable music-listening experience, its storage space allowed for users to upload thousands of songs and create their own playlists. AP U.S History teacher, Mr. Marlin Kann, tells the Register Forum, “It felt like this natural expectation that there would be something new coming along, and people might have  underestimated how quickly and rapidly things could change.” Apple’s former CEO, Steve Jobs, described the device as an, “entire music collection in your pocket” with the ability to “listen to it wherever you go.” With that in mind, the iPod was able to dominate the music market for over a decade.

A notable change in the evolution of music is how individualized it has become. Sucheck adds on, saying, “It became something very personal, specific, regional, local, and that’s why we all have such different music tastes in the world. The ability to take it around commodifies music, and makes it into something you can buy, keep, and own.”  The Sony Walkman was the first device that was able to fit in pockets, and four decades later, it is still present in the form of a smartphone, providing a melody to accompany the modern rhythm of the world.