October 25, 2010, 7:40 AM — You have to give Sony credit for being either dedicated or stubborn. One they start to support a media format they tend to hold on to it for the long run. For instance, they've just announced a new Playstation 2 bundle (it comes with Toy Story: The Video Game) to be released on October 31, 2010. That's a full 10 years after the initial launch of the console. That Sony is still manufacturing and selling Playstation 2 units shows a dogged determination to squeeze every big of juice out of a format.
"But what about the UMD?" you might ask, and it's true that the PSP Go ditched the Playstation Portable's 5-year old UMD media format in favor of pure digital distribution. But Sony still makes the PSP-3000 which accepts the UMD. So UMD is still very much alive (and in fact the PSP Go is getting a price cut to $200 which may or may not be a prelude to going back to 100% UMD support).
But talking about ten years for the PS2 or five years for UMD... those are small numbers compared to the good old cassette tape. Now clearly Sony doesn't own the cassette format, but they did introduce the first personal cassette player, the Sony Walkman, 31 years ago (in 1979). It was something of a marvel back then; a media player that you could easily hold and operate with one hand? Unheard of in a time of giant boomboxes. In a lot of ways the Sony Walkman was the first step on the road to today's iPods and for 31 years Sony has been rolling them off factory assembly lines.
But all things must pass, and so too the Walkman. Turns out Sony manufactured it's last batch of Walkmans last spring. The final lot was shipped in April, according to Crunchgear's translation of an IT Media page. Once these are sold, Sony-manufactured Walkmans will be gone forever. But, it turns out, this won't be the final end of the Walkman, as Sony has licensed the name to some Chinese companies who'll keep selling knock-off units in Asia and the Middle East.
Sony will keep manufacturing portable media players based on CDs and MiniDiscs, which should have a few more years left in them yet if the Sony pattern holds true.
Sony sold over 200 million Walkmans during its 31 year run in spite of intense competition back in the heyday of portable cassette players. Once Sony blazed the trail it seemed like every electronics manufacturer followed suit. The personal cassette player quickly went from something of a status symbol to a causal consumer item that was sold off the rack at every department or variety store. It's amazing that it remained a viable part of Sony's product line for this many years.
Those of us who remember tightening a loose tape with the shaft of a #2 pencil should now share a moment of silence and bow our heads over our dusty cassette collections.