This month, Sony released a new flagship media player, the Walkman F-Series, so I was inspired to do a retrospective design comparison with the original Sony Walkman. In particular, I was curious about the evolution of both Sony’s legacy languages and designed communicators of quality (CoQ).
Does the F800 preserve the Sony Walkman heritage?
Sony Walkman F800
The F800 comes with a 3.5″ touch display and Android 4.0 out of the box, making it a competitive offering capable of satiating any of the contemporary man’s multimedia hungers. Now obviously, the original Sony Walkman came packaged with neither a screen nor an operating system, so without ruminating on the product genre’s evolution, let’s discuss the differences in design.
The 1st Read
The 1st Read, or the first impression element has been isolated in each design respectively. In both cases, it is a rectangular surface characterized by a material break, and the area with the highest visual priority has been marked P.
In both cases the area with the highest visual priority is also the area with the most prominent functionality–the touch screen on the F800, and the deck on the Walkman.
While I believe this is acceptable consistency, it is definitely not a strong enough connection to carry 1st Read responsibilities. The proportions are dissimilar, and there are other current-market products competing with the F800 with a similar treatment (the Zune HD).
Interface Elements–Zoning & Communicators of Quality
F800 calls attention to its touch screen as the primary interface element, and hides the volume controls along the side.
The way user interface elements have been organized between the two products is inconsistent. The F800 brings its primary interface, the screen, to the forefront, giving it highest visual priority. Meanwhile, the Walkman places its interface along the side, giving it secondary importance.
However, this discrepancy is not a problem of design, but a product of changes overtime in how people perceive quality relative to the technological landscape.
The touch screen on the F800 is the primary communicator of quality (CoQ). The fact that it is front and center, and the physical buttons have been tucked along the sides shows that physical buttons are not only taken for granted, but possibly communicate poor quality.
On the contrary, while the Walkman has not charged its physical buttons with 1st Read responsibilities, it does flaunt them proudly. The metal grip textures and holes are clearly drawing on some notion of engineered precision to communicate quality.
So even though the F800 and Walkman disagree in this sense, its mostly because of the difference in the technological contexts wherein each was developed. Though to be honest, I think Sony could have retained that sense of pride in that “notion of engineered precision,” by not hiding away plastic buttons, but flaunting very tangible alloy ones.
Why Heritage is Important
The crowded consumer electronics market is a place where new brands and products are popping up left and right, and hits can be born overnight and funded on Kickstarter. In this scenario, heritage is a quality that can not be purchased or designed–it is a characteristic of a brand or product that is beyond specifications and features. Heritage means credibility, trust, and loyalty. Quite specifically, how can the Sony Walkman F800 compete with the Apple iPod Touch? For some, it might just be as simple as “Android or iOS?” Others might just choose the iPod because of the “cool” and “familiar” that comes with it.
But the one thing Sony has that Apple doesn’t have in this product genre is heritage. The Walkman practically invented the low-cost, portable media device.
In this cut-throat market, I don’t think any company can afford to miss opportunities on CoQ like heritage.
Ultimately, there is not a substantial amount of consistency between the two products. Greater consistency, drawing more and stronger consistencies (and an ad campaign for the new design) will create a more disciplined product and communicate greater quality.