But it’s not an actual “Walkman”

I originally wrote this story 3 years ago for The Loop Insight Magazine . It’s set in 2014.

Image from the wonderful walkman archive: http//www.walkman-archive.com

When the iPhone was launched, I made a prediction. It was a bold one. It basically goes like this:

I believe that the iPhone will have a 20 year reign, similar to that held by the Walkman

I believe that this is still true, but it needs some explaining. Right now, the smartphone market belongs to 2 operating systems: iOS and Android. Windows Phone hasn’t made a dent, but my prediction is a long one, so that may gain traction in time.

And there’s many different measurements to use to consider which one is “winning”. You can use activations (Android wins), you can use market share (Android wins in some places, iOS in others), you can use income on apps (iOS wins hands down) and so forth. I’ve seen it referred to as “by some measure, Android is still winning”. This is of course true, but the implication is this means “by some measure, iOS is still winning”

But given that ambiguity, how can I stand over my prediction? 
It’s easy. When I say “reign”, I’m not talking about the measurements above. I’m referring to it’s place in the hierarchy. I’m speaking of desirability, I’m speaking of it’s dominance as the king of the smartphones. That’ll last.

Let me go back to the Walkman. Launched in 1979, it quickly became the “must have” accessory. Everyone wanted one, and of course other electronics manufacturers copied the concept. Technically, they produced “Personal Stereos”, but the parlance was to refer to anyone’s personal stereo as a walkman.

Except…Among those who knew. They’d never refer to a Sanyo personal stereo as a walkman. They’d be likely to correct you if you referred to it as a walkman. They’d say

Yeah, except it isn’t a Walkman, is it?

And even if you had a Philips, Sanyo, Panasonic or Sharp deep down you knew you had a compromise. You knew, if you had the money (or you parents had the money), you’d have gone for a Walkman.

Sony continued to improve the Walkman. The last of them were tiny. They were barely larger than the compact cassette they housed. They were plain, with brushed aluminium covers and still looked very desirable

The Sony WM-II Pic from http://walkman-archive.com

It’s reign was only killed off by the demise of the compact cassette. (Sony tried to use the brand in MiniDisc and MP3 players, but these never captured the zeitgeist). The brand is still in the Sony line up. I’ve seen the in shops, but alas, I can’t remember anyone showing off their Walkman in a long time.

I guess there’s no black-and-white end date to the popularity of a product; people move to other products over time. One can’t say “It all ended on June 12 2001”. Cassette’s decline in popularity was essentially caused by the introduction of the compact disc; Wikipedia suggests that CDs outsold cassettes by “the early 2000s”. By that estimate, Walkman had a reign of 20 years or so.

So back to my prediction. After the iPhone launched, it was immediately the device that defined the smart phone. You only have to look at images of phones made before the iPhone, and those made after the iPhone. There’s no doubt anywhere that the iPhone was the device that every phone manufacturer emulated.

It really was king of the smartphones.

But here’s the thing. It still is. I don’t doubt the “android is winning by X” measurements; They’re clearly true. There’s lots of very good android devices on the market. There’s lots of very powerful android devices on the market. They’ve some cool features, and some pretty outstanding screens, but android devices remain to iPhone what Sanyo, Panasonic et al. was to the Walkman.

They’re not iPhones.

Ok, granted. The iPhone hasn’t lost it’s brand ownership in the way “Walkman” meant “Personal Stereo” to normals; People don’t refer to their touch-screen non-apple mobile devices as “my iPhone”.

But deep down they do feel it.

It’s not actually an iPhone

They know. If they had the money (or their parents had the money) they’d have gone for the iPhone.

My son is 11. We got him a pretty good Android device for his birthday last year. It’s now 14 months old, and he’s starting to think of his next phone. More correctly, he’s starting to ask what Tapadoo does with their older iPhones. He knows what he wants.

The iPhone 5S is every bit as aspirational, every bit as desirable as the original iPhone.

Image by user “janitors” on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/10575718945

20 years is an age in consumer electronics. And when I made the prediction everyone said “no chance”.

The original iPhone was released 7 years ago this week.
It’s a third of the way through my predicted reign.

For amazing trivia about the Walkman, see WalkmanCentral. http://www.walkmancentral.com
For beautiful imagery of the Walkman collection,see The Walkman Archive http://www.walkman-archive.com

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