The Sony Network Walkman

In June 2000, I brought an amazing digital music player. It delivered the highest quality audio I'd ever heard on a portable music device and I still haven't experienced anything like it.

It may surprise you to learn that the Network Walkman was released over a year before Apple launched their first iPod.

You may be wondering what happened to this amazing device, as the history books now suggest that Steve Jobs was responsible for the digital music revolution. I think it can easily be explained by the fact that I quickly exchanged mine, for a Diamond Rio.

That's right, I gave up all this high-end audio for something that sounded like it was playing through a tin can.

What could have possibly motivated me to give up my Network Walkman and why aren't we using them today? The answer is simple, they used ATRAC instead of MP3.

To fully understand what happened, we need to go back to the start. Following on from their amazing Minidisc players in the late '90s, Sony set their sights on the new digital market.

MP3 players were the next big thing back then, but none of the major manufacturers were producing them.

They were also uncomfortable with the flexible nature of the MP3 format and the ease of which it could be misused to 'steal' music. Sony's solution was to adapt the ATRAC format used by Minidisc to create their own alternative.

In theory this made a lot of sense, as they also owned one of the largest record labels in the world at the time.

In practice though, the format was pretty much unusable. Ripping all your CD's again would have been bad enough after moving to MP3, but they actually expected you to 'check in' each track individually when you loaded it on to your device. This created one of the most frustrating and time-consuming procedures I've ever experienced.

In the end, this stylish, compact device that delivered incredible audio just wasn't worth it.

They didn't help themselves by forcing you to buy a special 'MagicGate' version of their Memory Stick if you wanted to boost the meagre memory it shipped with. This was even more frustrating when you actually owned several of the standard ones already.

I think all of this demonstrates some important lessons when it comes to technology. Today we only remember the winners, but I honestly think that Apple just picked up the ball that was dropped by Sony. The Network Walkman could have easily taken the digital music market and you can only wonder where Apple would be now without the iPod.

Even with threats like Napster looming on the horizon, I just can't understand why they didn't focus on a more user-friendly format.

Although Sony continued to produce these players in the years that followed and eventually integrated other formats, I think it's safe to say the damage was done. You simply can't make a mistake like this and get away with it.

Network Walkman

Despite its software flaws, I still consider the original NW-MS7 to be a classic piece of technology.

It delivered everything you'd expect from a great gadget and it simply blew you away when you first used it. I'm sure Tim Cook really appreciates this device as well.