Engadget reports (via Asahi) that Sony will ship its last MiniDisc player in March 2013. A magneto-optical disc-based storage device, it was first introduced in December 1992 here in the United States as the next step above the cassette. The media originally held 74 minutes of digitized audio, but then was upgraded to 80 minutes, or 1 GB of Hi-MD data.
Originally Sony had intended to launch another format for taking the place of consumer-based cassettes: the Digital Audio Tape, or DAT. Sony planned to sell the first readers for around $400 USD in 1989, but by then the USD had fallen so far in relation to the yen that Sony was forced to sell the device between $800 to $1000 to break even. Thus the DAT system was mostly used by professionals, and Sony went back to the drawing board to create another cassette successor, only cheaper.
But the resulting MiniDisc machines still weren't cheap. The original recorder cost $750 USD while the portable Walkman playback-only model retailed for $549 USD in December 1992. Still hurt by the price, Sony only managed to sell less than 50,000 units during 1993. However over in Japan, the MiniDisc proved to become quite popular during the 1990s, especially with teenagers who scooped up MiniDisc singles.
What helped keep sales of the MiniDisc format at a minimal was the portable CD player and the recordable CD itself (CD-R). Diamond and Apple also put a hurting on the MiniDisc format thanks to the former's portable Rio MP3 player, and the latter's iPod. To gain more traction, Sony tried to reboot its format as Hi-MD, cramming more than three times the amount of storage on the disc.
But by 2007, Sony was reduced to selling only one MiniDisc model here in North America, the portable MZ-M200 Hi-MD Recorder which was packaged with a Sony microphone. In 2011, Sony said that it would discontinue MiniDisc Walkman products altogether, thus signaling the death of the MiniDisc format. Since its introduction in 1992, the Walkman MiniDisc player only sold 22 million units before it was discontinued.
Finally last week Sony said all MiniDisc devices will no longer be shipped as of March, but media and repair services will still be offered. Yet despite CD players, MP3 players and smartphones, the MiniDisc format managed to survive for 21 years, outliving another defunct Sony media format, the UMD.