Wednesday, October 27, 2010

R.I.P. cassette Walkman

Sony announced last Friday that it had shipped the last order of cassette-based Walkman and stopped production of the line. First introduced in Japan on July 1, 1979, this iconic device reshaped culture and lifestyle in the 1980s. It was such a cool thing to have: you can "walk" with your own music! Since then, technology of portable personal music has evolved dramatically. It's interesting to see there's a pattern of roughly 8 years between generations of Discman, MD Walkman, and the iPod. Now what we do is to just stream music from Pandora with our smartphones. Where is our music? Somewhere in the cloud I guess...

"High-tech" gadgets become obsolete easily. When was the last time you saw a rotary phone? The last time you took a roll of film to develop? The last time you heard the modem dialing sound? I was actually surprised that Sony was still making cassette Walkman up till last week. It may or may not be a coincident that the end-of-Walkman announcement was made one day before the iPod's 9th birthday on October 23.

Apple is famous for killing old technologies. When the Virgin Megastore in Union Square closed last year, it was kind of ironic to see the "closing" sign right next to an iPod ad. With the first MacBook Air, Apple skipped the optical drive - with all software available online, we won't need discs to install anything. Now the second generation of MacBook Air has just been released and it uses flash chips for data storage. When Steven Jobs said, "we think all notebooks are going to be like this one day," he officially killed the hard drive.

Inside a second generation MacBook Air, there's no hard drive.

I remember ten years ago I was complaining about how inconvenient it was to work with teammates with an iBook - there's no floppy drive! Now I know, it was the first notebook to have built-in wireless networking! People say, things are constantly changing and we need to adapt and survive. I think in the process of evolution, instead of just trying to detect and adapt to the changes, we could be the ones who have visions and cause changes. I bet that's how people at Apple see themselves.

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