The Original Walkman vs. the iPod Touch

By  |  Monday, June 29, 2009 at 8:46 am

On Wednesday, a legendary gadget turns thirty–Sony’s Walkman, which put high-quality music into our pockets for the first time. Back when I was at PC World, we named the original model, the TPS-L2, as the greatest gadget of all time; the iPod was #2. The Walkman name lives on via new phones and digital audio players; if the iPod name is still in use in 2031, thirty years after the debut of Apple’s first music player, I’ll be impressed.

I was reminded of the anniversary by a fun BBC story by a 13-year-old who tried replacing his iPod with a Walkman (he wasn’t impressed). And I was moved to create a T-Grid comparing 1979’s TPS-L2 to today’s most highly-evolved iPod, the iPod Touch. Like the Beeb’s teenaged tester, I wouldn’t give up my iPod (which happens to be an iPhone) for a Walkman. But I’m not so sure that the TPS-L2 wasn’t equally as impressive (and fashionable) in its day, in its own way…

The devices
Sony Walkman TPS-L2
Sony Walkman TS-L2
iPod Touch
Apple iPhone 3G S
July 1st, 1979
September 5th, 2007
Original name in U.S.
iPod Touch (ok, iPod touch)
Associated with legendary tech exec?
Yes, Sony co-chairman Akio Morita
Yes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs
Launched with press bash?
Yes–journalists were taken by bus to a Tokyo park, given Walkmen to listen to, and shown demos such as a guy and girl listening to Walkmen while riding a tandem bike.
Yes–Steve Jobs unveiled it along with the squarish iPod Nano and the iPod Classic; Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz appeared and KT Tunstall entertained
33,000 yen (approximately $475 in 2008 dollars)
$229 (8GB); $299 (16GB); $399 (32GB)
Cleverly adapted technology from an earlier product?
Yes, a $1000 tape player that also recorded
Yes, the iPhone
130mm by 90mm by 30mm
110m by 61.8mm by 8.5mm
14 oz.
4.05 oz.
Turquoise, silver, and orange
Black and silver
36 songs (both sides of a C-120 cassette tape)
7,000 songs (32GB model)
Removable storage
Yes; cassettes provide access to a theoretically infinite song collection
Removable battery
Yes (2 AA)
Stereophonic sound
Recording capability
No Yes, with external microphone
Headphone jacks
Two, so friends could listen; “Hotline” button lowered volume so they could talk to each other
Screen resolution and color depth
No screen
320 by 280; 16 million colors
Wi-Fi standard launched 18 years after Walkman
Included leatherette carrying case
Music store
The Musicland at your local mall, with approximately 20,000 songs on cassette
iTunes, with 8 million songs as DRM-free downloads
Recently removed
Beatles music available
Not yet
Plays movies and TV shows
FM radio
No, but later models had AM, FM, TV sound, and weather band
No, but can play many of them via Internet streaming
Usable as telephone
Yes, via Skype over Wi-Fi
Plays games
I’m afraid not
It’s the Funnest iPod Ever
Other uses
None of note. OK, listening to books on tape.
50,000 applications available
Units sold in first month
Not reported by Apple, but higher than 3,000
Units sold overall
More than 340 million for all Walkman models
More than 173,000,000 iPods sold (as of September, 2008)
Corrections? Additions? Questions (other than “don’t you have better things to do with your time?”)?

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11 Comments For This Post

  1. bob Says:

    errr.. I’m glad you have a row on “used as a telephone” and “plays TV shows and movies”.. I couldn’t remember.. yikes!

  2. Chris Says:

    Two corrections. First, the Touch can record with an external microphone. Second, regarding FM radio…”There’s an app for that.” Specifically, streaming radio, but local FM channels nonetheless with available wi-fi.

  3. KM. Says:

    I’m pretty sure you have the dimensions for the 2 devices mixed up – the iPod Touch is 30mm (over an inch) deep?

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    Yes, I flipped the dimensions–thanks for the catch!


  5. Strideo Says:

    I’d totally give up an iPod Touch for a mint condition Sony TPS-L2. The mint TPS-L2 is worth more to collectors. 😛

  6. xtraa Says:

    Cleverly adapted technology from an earlier product?

    Sony? Hell yes! Officially stolen from the 1977 Stereobelt!

    Invented by a german named Andreas Pavel. After the dead of Akio Morita, Sony paid Pavel.

  7. Roy Says:


  8. Durp Says:

    Kind of a lame comparison if you’re going to use the Ipod Touch. The comparison should really should have been the Walkman and the original 5gb Ipod. Whats next Typwriter vs Toughbook?

  9. Calvin Says:

    Great post but i dont think the dimensions of the ipod touch are 110m by 61.8mm by 8.5mm. 110m is a bit big to fit in your pocket.

  10. Joe Says:

    Nice comparison, i like it.
    Though like the guy above said; it would have been good to compare with the original ipod

  11. austin Says:

    you need to add the recent sony walkman z to the comparison

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