Jump to content
  • 0

Designer of Walkman Retires from Sony

Rate this question



Yahoo! News has a thoughtful article describing the retirement the engineer Nobutoshi Kihara, whom manifested the Walkman experience (amongst a myriad of other accomplishments) in the 80's. Full text follows.+++

Designer of Walkman Retires from Company

TOKYO (AFP) - Times have changed since Nobutoshi Kihara sketched out designs for the revolutionary Walkman on a piece of paper.

But, despite a disastrous few years for the iconic Japanese company, the ground-breaking Sony engineer believes the electronics giant still has its spirit of innovation as it marks its 60th anniversary this year.

A protege of Sony co-founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, Kihara is the little known face behind Japan's first magnetic tape recorders, portable tape recorders, music stereo systems, Betamax video and digital cameras.

Kihara, who has slipped quietly into retirement after nearly six decades at Sony, also played key roles in improving the company's televisions and mini video cameras.

"We made good, quality products. Our founders also knew the importance of advertising and promotion. That's how the company grew," said the soft-spoken 80-year-old, dressed in a khaki engineer's uniform.

"We did not think about expanding the company for the sake of expansion. It just grew as we worked on our products," he told AFP before retiring as head of a Sony research center where he spent his last working years.

"Back in my days, we had to draw product designs on papers. I would close my eyes and imagine our products. I would imagine joggers with Walkmans to see how the hinges should move or how the products fit into the lives of the users."

Proud to have been a Sony employee and former student of Ibuka, Kihara said he believes the company's rank-and-file engineers will keep pushing the technological boundaries.

"I am confident that our soul as engineers is being passed on to young people. Being unique and creative -- that's the quality of Sony," he said.

Few would dispute that the original Walkman, which went on sale in 1979, changed the way people around the world listened to music.

Ironically, however, US computer maker Apple trumped Sony in the market for new digital portable music players with its phenomenally successful iPod. Sony has also lagged behind rivals like Panasonic in super-thin televisions.

Sony has gone through a turbulent spell in recent years, including recalls of millions of its laptop computer batteries that have dealt a serious blow to its fragile recovery from a profit slump.

As many as 9.6 million Sony batteries could now be recalled and last week the group slashed its full-year operating profit forecast by 62 percent to 50 billion yen (421 million dollars) -- about one-quarter of last year's levels.

On Thursday it posted a second-quarter loss of 20.8 billion yen.

The troubles have hit Sony just as a painful restructuring drive under its first foreign chief executive Howard Stringer had appeared to be paying off.

Sony's woes are seen by many observers as a sign that the modern Sony -- a sprawling electronics, music and entertainment conglomerate -- is losing the determined engineering spirit of Ibuka its legendary co-founder.

Even Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari said recently: "As a former employee, I feel like, 'What happened to Sony the technology company?'

"I hope the company will regain its brand strength as Sony the technology company by quickly addressing the technical problems," Amari told reporters.

For years Sony was able to set premium prices for its products against rival electronics firms because of its strong brand image, backed by solid engineering and design finesse.

Some analysts believe Sony's decision to branch out into non-core areas such as finance, as well as cost-cutting efforts and outsourcing of parts manufacturing, have weakened the company's engineering prowess.

Born in 1926, Kihara's career with Sony mirrors the firm's rise from a small electronics workshop to an international conglomerate, as the modern Japan emerged from the ashes of war to become the world's second largest economy.

He grew up tinkering with toys, building radio sets and model trains and aspired to become a mechanical engineer.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, he built and sold radios and other electronics from parts to support his family and to pay for his college education.

It was at that time that Ibuka and his associates founded Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, or Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp, in 1946 as a small shop researching and making telecommunications and measuring equipment.

The Sony co-founders encouraged their young engineers to experiment and learn from the latest Western inventions.

Nicknamed "a treasure of Sony," Kihara played a key role in developing the technology that resulted in the world's first commercially successful transistor radio in the 1950s.

The success gained Sony international acclaim, which was followed by similar successes in household stereo systems, televisions, video recorders, personal computers and professional use broadcasting equipment.

"I have to think that Lady Luck is watching over me," said Kihara.

"When I needed advice, I felt as if someone was guiding me to certain studies or books with hints and answers," he said.

Sony experienced a massive corporate defeat in the battle that erupted in the late 1970s between two types of video cassettes.

Kihara has written in his books that it still boiled his blood to think that consumers have been forced to use the "inferior" VHS over Sony's Betamax.

Sony is preparing for a similar fight now in new high-definition DVDs.

"It's very difficult to make technological advances, however small they may be. People may not know our story -- how we spent money, how we failed, how we had to re-do our work," he said.

"Technological progress ends once we start imitating others."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 answers to this question

Recommended Posts

  • 0

At first, i was going to say "Was that why the designs for Sony's latest releases were so horrible!"

I so like these two from the above read -

- "Back in my days, we had to draw product designs on papers. I would close my eyes and imagine our products. I would imagine joggers with Walkmans to see how the hinges should move or how the products fit into the lives of the users."

- Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari said recently: "As a former employee, I feel like, 'What happened to Sony the technology company?'

Its like Sony don't make Quality stuffs anymore but now its more like making crappy stuffs to try and get incomes! Comparing now and then anyway.. <_<


Although, very good read.. thanks for that Kurisu.

Edited by Kaoru
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

[sarcasm]In another news, Sony music and Sony pictures execs assign a mule as the new Sony portable audio designer. The new walkmen will require users to call the execs at Sony Music and/or Sony Picture and give them the users' life savings if users want to playback any content. Of course, the execs are busy playing golf, so users have to put their name on a 3-day-wait waiting list.[/sarcasm]

I still see Sony Music and Sony Pictures as the bottleneck.

Edited by pata2001
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

I still see Sony Music and Sony Pictures as the bottleneck.

couldn't agree more. Samsung has thrived thanks to it's lack of connections with (read: restrictions from) the music & movie industries

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

The real tragedy here was not the lack engineering skills at Sony but from the sheer incompetence of the marketing people. For example just look at the sleek designs of the RH1 and the N10 -- were these ever SEEN on TV or in the press -- not as far as I know. Most pepole I know who are using MD equipment are either long time users from back way when or new users who have got to know about them by word of mouth from other users - particularly musicians.

The product managers weren't much better either as they let areas of the market where Sony had a real lead slip away from them.

I don't like the design at all of the hideous (IMO) ubiquitious tiny micro mp3 players and I don't really like the design of the IPOD anyway --but others do so I can't really knock that one. The Ipod definitely was simple to use and essentially drag and drop. Some of the MD manuals almost require you to have a university Ph.d before you can understand ho to use the product.

OK some MD's weren't exactly state of the art either --the RH10 was a HUGE disappointment for example -- poor quality including the notorious battery door compartment which breaks just when it's LOOKED at at it, and the really easily scratchable case.

However the RH1 certainly is far better than anyone could have dared hoped given the possibility of the entire MD range being killed off.

Had Sony allowed Drag and Drop and uploads from the outset and only applied DRM to "Purchased copyrighted downloaded music" the MD would have taken off long before the Ipod was even thought of.

Stopping people copying THEIR OWN COMPOSED AND PLAYED MUSIC was probably the biggest own goal in the music industry of all time.

Some of the Sony Laptops are really great but watch out --Philips (yes Europe is still in it) has an exquisite ultra portable laptop -- the X56 -- at around 1/2 the price of the Vaio's and LG is certainly competing with Sony's new HD TV's (excellent again but a lot more costly than LG's).

Motorola (I love the RAZR type of mobile phones) and Samsung IMO have outsmarted Sony / Ericcsson in the mobile market and Sony's DVD technology is too late -- with the price of a 350 GB hard disk now as little as 79 GBP / 100 USD who needs yet another DVD format. A 350 GB disk can record HOURS and HOURS of HD Tv without yet another set top box.

Whilst Sony is not yet in its death throes it's clear that they need to percieve what the user wants rather than the music / entertainment moguls. Finally having got a product they need to MARKET IT.

I hope that we won't be writing sometime in 2008 Sony's Obituary -- SONY R.I.P.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Answer this question...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...