Happy 40th anniversary to the Sony Walkman. If not for the Walkman and Discman, Steve Jobs would have never steered Apple down the iPod And subsequent iPhone path. Remember, the iPhone was in his words “a phone, a portable music player, and an internet communication device.” You know how it’s said that porn drives technology? I say it’s music. Music is deeply woven into the human experience. It transfers culture and translates emotion in a way that nothing else does. You want an accurate snapshot of history? Listen to the music of the time.
Anyway, back to the significance of the Walkman. Well, there isn’t much left to say. Chart any form of portable electronic entertainment and you’ll find its genesis in the Walkman.
That’s as neat a transition as you’re gonna get to the Sir Jonathan Paul Ive departure from Apple. The man who designed the iPhone is gone and the company will continue. I want to personally thank Sir Ive for blessing this world with the perfect form and function of the iPhone 5s. He was in charge of software design at the same time and was responsible for flattening iOS 7, a trend which almost all smartphone manufacturers aped over time and the world is better for it.
Technology and its associated virtual interactive world gained its own identity with each well-paced Jony Ive monologue, reaching a climax of industrial design verbal auto erotica when he conjured the phrase “raw aluminium of exceptional purity” in this iconic ode to the Apple Watch:
If nothing else, Ive was an unabashed Sony fan. Well, early Sony. Rumors and leaked sketches of the “Jony phone” are all around the internet. You can even trace the origins of the original iPhone design cues back to the Walkman and Ive probably purposefully rounded the edges to not give away the game. And when he did decide to go square it resulted in the iPhone 4 – still the most widely praised of the Apple phone designs.
As you know I’m more partial to the taller iteration on those classic lines, clinging to my iPhone SE until a suitable micro machine replacement can be found.
Now everything looks like an iPhone clone. Android manufacturers did try and differentiate with rear-mounted fingerprint sensors and ever more sparse front panels, but the second Apple released the iPhone X and its polarizing notch the bandwagon filled up quickly. That’s the power of well-considered design. It’s no surprise that the current most successful Android phone makers were those who played the best iPhone cover versions. Yes, Samsung eventually found its own distinct design language, but playing the imitation game put it on the map.
I spoke of Huawei’s meteoric rise by clinging to Ive’s pencil lines (remember the Ascend P6) while trying to calm the army of owners’ fears about the US ban. Well, the ban has been largely lifted and I could already this week confidently recommend a P30 Pro to someone seeking buying advice.
The smartphone is the most intimate device that you own, unless you’re one of those weirdos who is married to their laptop. And that intimacy was sold to us through excellent industrial design and a billion dollar marketing budget. Walkman introduced the idea of discrete entertainment, which was a welcome departure from the blaring boomboxes of the time. You could make a personal mixtape and not risk embarrassment if all the tracks didn’t match your public persona because you weren’t streaming to the world. It was the first device that was meant to be touched and carried every day, so extra care was taken to make sure the buttons lasted and retained the original clickyness.
Take your phone out of its case and get a good feeling of it in your hands. Notice how conveniently the controls are placed? Can you feel how comfortable it is? We live in an age where industrial design can be taken for granted because of iconic landmark products like the Walkman. Where maestros like Jony Ive revolutionized the way our computers and phones look, feel and function. These objects are now tailored to the human experience, meant to augment our innate creativity and simultaneously celebrate it. We humans bend the world to our will and our gadgets are the personification of that spirit.