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Thursday, September 2, 2010

In Japan, Walkman Outruns iPod


Nobutoshi Kihara might be forgiven for getting a little kick out research firm BCN Inc.’s latest monthly survey on sales of portable audio players in Japan (in Japanese).

AFP/Getty Images
Taking a bite out of Apple: Sony’s “Walkman S-series” on display in March.

Back in 1978, the now-retired Sony Corp. engineer who came up with the original cassette Walkman as a device to allow then Sony co-chairman Akio Morita to listen to opera during lengthy flights back and forth across the Pacific. More than 30 years on, sales of the MP3-playing version of the Walkman topped Apple Inc.’s ubiquitous iPod here in August for the first time since BCN began compiling the survey in November 2001. The Walkman had a 47.8% market share, the iPod 44%, BCN reckons.

The Walkman boost comes just after Sony unveiled a new digital music service that will allow consumers to stream millions of songs over the Internet to their devices. The survey results may bring a brief sense of respite to Sony. The company’s loss of dominance in portable music players — the very category they created — is often cited as a sign of the company’s decline in delivering must-have products for the digital age.

But before Sony fans get too excited at the prospect of iPod users deserting Apple in favor of the Walkman, there’s some devil in the detail of the BCN survey. The firm says that many iPod users have been buying iPhones instead, listening to their tunes that way. Also, some have been delaying iPod purchases pending the release of new models.

Sure enough, Apple guru Steve Jobs Wednesday launched a revamp of the company’s lineup of iPods — incorporating many of the features that have made the iPhone a roaring success, including cameras, high-quality displays and the ability to video chat on some models.

But while it seems likely that the sleek Apple machine will reclaim top spot in BCN’s rankings pretty soon, there’s a burning question for JRT’s hipster readers: which has fonder memories for you, your first Walkman, or your first iPod?