It is 30 years since Sony launched the Walkman - the gadget that revolutionised the way people around the world listened to music.

The portable cassette player was launched on 1 July 1979 and it helped transform the Japanese company into a global electronics powerhouse.

30,000 Walkmans were sold in the first two months - 50 million within a decade.

However three decades on, it is Apple's iPod which dominates the portable music player market.

Times have changed since Sony engineer Nobutoshi Kihara sketched out designs for the Walkman by hand.

'Back in my days, we had to draw product designs on paper,' Kihara told AFP in an interview in 2006.

'I would close my eyes and imagine our products. I would imagine joggers with Walkmans to see how the hinges should move or how the products fit into the lives of the users.'

Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka came up with the idea for the gadget on one of his overseas trips, during which he used to listen to music on existing tape recorders that were too heavy to be considered truly portable.

The initial reaction to the Walkman was poor. Many retailers thought that a cassette player without a recording mechanism had little chance of success.

That changed, and today total sales of the Walkman have reached 385 million around the world, including the newer digital models that use flash memory.

Soundabout & Stowaway

Sony says it chose the name Walkman partly because of the popularity of Superman at the time and the fact it was based on an existing audio recorder called the Pressman.

It initially planned to call the machine 'Soundabout' in the US and 'Stowaway' in Britain, but changed its mind after hearing that children in Europe were already asking their parents for a Walkman.

The name stuck, and in 1986 it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

For people who have grown up with iPods, Sony's original gadget can leave much to be desired.

Manual fastforward and changing sides are things of the past to those raised with shuffles and playlists.

Sony has found some success in recent years with attempts to repackage the digital Walkman, including one that looked like a jelly bean.

It sold seven million Walkmans in the year to March, up from 5.8m the previous business year.

But it has failed to pose a serious challenge to Apple, which sold 100m iPods in less than six years after its launch in 2001, making it the fastest selling music player in history.

Sales have since topped 200 million.

Sony is hoping its new touch-screen X-series Walkman will revive sales of the gadget.

For many observers, the success of the iPod illustrates the way Sony has lost its golden touch in recent years, failing fully to exploit the opportunities of the Internet and the digital age.

Over the years it did evolve from playing cassettes to compact disks then minidisks and finally digital files.

But today Sony is struggling to reinvent itself and win back its reputation as a pioneer in the world of electronics.

As well as losing its lead in portable music players, Sony's PlayStation 3 has been trumped by Nintendo's Wii as the top-selling home video game console.

There is even some speculation that Sony should drop the Walkman brand for good.

'The Walkman's gap with the iPod has grown so definitive, it would be extremely difficult for Sony to catch up,' said Kazuharu Miura, analyst with Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo.

However, the impact of the original portable music player is undeniable.

The first Walkman was as big as a paperback book, and weighed 390g. It was not cheap, especially for those days, costing $340 when it first went on sale in the US.

A group of children from Dublin try to get to grips with the late 70s technology

Watch the report