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Switched On: A Case of "He Said, HP Said"


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Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, an opinion column about consumer technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

With pioneer Rio being the latest casualty of the MP3 wars and Apple on the verge of announcing something next week that could be anything except a video iPod, we should not forget another digital music brand that recently left the field. It's been more than a month since HP announced its exit from the iPod market. Yet, the world still mourns. Vigils continue in the major metropolitan centers of New York, London, Paris, and Munich as everybody talks about pop music. Across a fragile planet, iPod shuffles hang low around consumers' necks like 0.78 oz. albatrosses. And rumor has it that even Steve Jobs has been seen in public wearing a black turtleneck in what many perceive as a sign of sympathy.

The music world has been hit especially hard. Elton John has written a tribute to the posthumous player to the tune of "Candle in the Wind" called "iPod on the Shelf: a Tribute to the Apple iPod by HP by Elton John." The HP iPod seemed so young, so vibrant, and so very much exactly like Apple's. How could this have happened? Perhaps those initial conversations between two Cupertino computing giants went a bit like this:

HP: �We�re really excited about the iPod and we think we can really take it in new directions by creating our own version.�

Apple: �Why, yes, we would love to have you resell the iPod exactly in its existing perfect form.�

HP: �Exactly, we could come out with new colors, new shapes, add a bit of the ol� WMA. Hey, maybe USB On-The-Go so people could print album covers directly to our printers. You know, really differentiate it.�

Apple: �That sounds splendid. We look forward to having you resell the iPod exactly in its existing perfect form.�

HP: �That is so cool. The iPod�s really going to be central to our digital entertainment strategy. We�re thinking about a slot built into our Media Center PCs that pops out the iPod like a videocassette. And then we could put a series of blue LEDs � by the way, we love blue LEDs � on the side of the iPod to indicate when transferring of new music was done.

Apple: �You know what else would be cool? You reselling the iPod exactly in its existing perfect form.�

HP: �Oh, and speaking of form, we know you�ve got the whole �cultural icon� thing going but we�re also thinking of a more �extreme� version with lots of holes in it that you can put blue LEDs in. We�re thinking of calling them �piercings.��

Apple: �OK, just for that, you can�t sell any new models until we�ve had them on the market for at least three months. Oh, and if we catch you selling one within 500 feet of an Apple Store, we�ll switch Macs to Intel and let our machines run Windows.�

HP: �Ha ha, ok, just kidding, just kidding. Look, we know we�re going to be perfect together. Like, I dunno, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston. By the way, we�re thinking of calling our radically different version the HPod � no mention of Apple whatsoever. Pretty clever, huh?�

How will HP pick up the pieces? When HP dropped the iPod, Apple noted that HP had sold about 7 percent of iPods worldwide. That sounds like a trivial amount until one realizes that most of Apple�s other competitors have suffered similar market shares. HP has proven it can come from behind; it entered the PC market late and rose to dominate retail sales. Yet, while partnering with Apple may have been the second-worst way to enter the portable digital player, re-entering at this point competing with Apple would be the worst one.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at
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