As of next month, the Sony MiniDisc will be no more.
A report by Asahi (via Engadget) says that Sony has stopped producing the portable audio players, which were meant to be a replacement for the analog cassette. A final batch of MiniDisc players will ship in March. Other companies like Onkyo may continue to produce MiniDisc devices, but Sony is finally walking away from the format.
Sony introduced the first MiniDisc player in 1992. The audio players were small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. The optical discs, which had their own enclosures, supported digital recording as well as playback.
Although the format was popular in Japan, and to a lesser extent in Europe, it never really caught on with U.S. consumers, largely because the players and discs were incredibly expensive. Also, record labels never really took to the MiniDisc, as the compact disc because the dominant way to listen to music.
Even on the MiniDisc's tenth anniversary, Sony hadn't given up. A PCWorld report from 2002 quoted Keiji Kimura, then president of Sony's Mobile Network Company division, as saying “We have confidence MD will become a standard” in Europe, and that “signs are promising” of greater uptake in the United States. Of course, by then, a bigger threat was looming: Apple had just started selling the iPod, which helped to make optical media obsolete. For MiniDisc, the writing was on the wall.
Still, the MiniDisc did enjoy some popularity among audio professionals; here's an article from Radio Survivor on how radio stations used MiniDisc to digitally record programs. And as a commenter at Gizmodo points out, radio journalists still use them today.
I actually own a MiniDisc player, an MZ-R90 from 1999, along with a few discs that I bought at a Sony outlet store. At the time, it was more convenient than recording audio on a cassette, and it offered better sound quality. In college, I used it to record interviews for my school newspaper. Eventually, better methods came around, including handheld recorders that can transfer MP3s directly to a computer. I can't remember the last time I actually used the player; it's basically just a collector's item now.
On the bright side, Asahi reports that Sony will keep making the discs. So if you're still using a MiniDisc player, you might want to make sure it's in good working condition for the years to come.