By rights, Sony should own the portable player business. The company’s first hit product, back in the ’50s, was the transistor radio, the tinny-sounding invention that took rock and roll out of the house and away from the parents and allowed the whole Elvis thing to happen. A quarter-century later, the Walkman enabled the kids of the ’70s to take their tapes and tune out the world. But the 21st-century Walkman doesn’t bother with tapes or CDs or minidiscs; it stores hundreds of hours of music on its own hard drive. And it sports an Apple logo. ….
Where the iPod simply lets you sync its contents with the music collection on your personal computer, Walkman users are hamstrung by laborious ‘check-in/check-out’ procedures designed to block illicit file-sharing. And a Walkman with a hard drive? Not likely, since Sony’s copy-protection mechanisms don’t allow music to be transferred from one hard drive to another – not an issue with the iPod. ‘We do not have any plans for such a product,’ says Kimura, the smile fading. ‘But we are studying it.’ ….
What’s changed since the original Walkman debuted is that Sony became the only conglomerate to be in both consumer electronics and entertainment. As a result, it’s conflicted: Sony’s electronics side needs to let customers move files around effortlessly, but its entertainment side wants to build in restraints, because it sees every customer as a potential thief.