1988 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

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Portable Audio Players

The Sony Discman D-10.
1988: Sony Discman D-10

  • Price: $350 ($613 adjusted for inflation)
  • Format: CD-audio
  • Capacity: 650MB or 70 minutes
  • Battery life: 4 hours
  • Weight: 14 ounces

The Apple iPod Touch.
2008: Apple iPod Touch

  • Price: $299
  • Formats: AAC/MP3/AIFF/WAV/ lossless audio
  • Capacity: 8GB or 87 hours
  • Battery life: 22 hours of audio or 5 hours video
  • Weight: 4.2 ounces

The New York Times' Hans Fantel of rhapsodized about the wondrous Sony D-10 in 1987: "This complex piece of laserized machinery easily fits into the pocket of my raincoat. And when it isn't raining, I just sling it over a shoulder with a strap...the new elastic mounting of the laser makes it less likely to skip when bounced or jostled in portable use."

Though the iPod Touch offers skipless playback, thanks to its solid-state memory, portable audio quality has actually declined from what it was in the Discman years, because formats like MP3 and AAC compress files at the expense of sonic detail.

But the Touch's many other features--including video playback, touchscreen operation, and wireless e-mail and Web browsing--tip the value equation in its favor.

In the future we'll probably get our portable audio via subscription and live Web streaming. Who needs to carry around a library when you can access any song you want from the Internet cloud?

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