Orange button enabled radical innovation

The first Sony Walkman, introduced in 1979, was a completely new and different product even though all its components had already existed in other products. There had been stereo heads before, but never in a pocket tape recorder. And so on.

The innovation was based on ideas of human behaviour, and re-arrangement of technologies, rather than technology itself. One technology that actually was new was the new small, light, and high quality headphone membranes, which made the portability possible in a social way – with small headphones you could use it in public without feeling silly!

So in many ways this was an innovation with human focus, playing around with elements that already existed in other areas. An approach typical to today’s post-industrial world!

One of its unique features was that it could not record. The idea was provoking – a tape recorder that doesn’t record?! A tape recorder with no microphone? No that was too radical, so Sony gave it a microphone, two headphone connections and the orange HOT LINE button. When two people would share it, they could press the HOT LINE key and talk to each other using the microphone, without taking their headphones off.

My impression is that the HOT LINE button was just an enabler for SONY to make this radical product at all. Already on the next generation, it was removed. But in the early stage, it made the whole product possible.

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  2. feb 27, 2014: Reflections on Innovation Past and Present, From SF Designer Yves Behar

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