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Today in Apple’s history: HP’s iPod comes out of the blue


January 8, 2004 Clumsily named the Apple iPod + HP, Hewlett-Packard’s iPod debuts at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show.

The prototype device is blue, the color used to brand HP. However, when it hits the market later that year, the device is the same shade of white as a regular iPod. That doesn’t last long either.

Apple + HP = No collaboration

On paper, the collaboration between Hewlett-Packard and Apple seemed to have come out of the left. However, there was a common history between the two companies. As a kid, Steve Jobs looked up HP co-founder Bill Hewlet in the phone book. He got a summer job at the company. HP also hired Steve Wozniak while working on Apple-1 and Apple II computers.

Over the years, Apple has also recruited a number of high-performing people from HP. HP maintained the campus in Cupertino until 2010, when it sold the land to Apple to build Apple Park.

Despite these connections, the Apple iPod + HP never seemed like a significant collaboration between the two companies.

Jobs usually hated licensing Apple technology, which explains why he never wanted to transfer Mac OS to other systems. He just reluctantly did it with the NeXTSTEP operating system in NeXT. And he immediately canceled licensed “Mac clones” when he returned to Apple in the late 1990s.

Apple iPod + HP was the only time Jobs ever licensed the official iPod name to another company – although he licensed iTunes to Motorola to create the first (some) Apple phone.

Steve Jobs’ smart strategy

By 2004, Jobs had given up his firm stance that the iTunes Music Store should never be available on a non-Mac computer. The service expanded to Windows PCs in late 2003, although HP was the only Windows maker to get its own iPod variant.

As part of the agreement, iTunes was pre-installed on all HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario computers. In theory, both companies were profitable. HP has got a single point of sale, while Apple could further expand its iTunes market. This allowed iTunes to be present in places like Walmart and RadioShack, where Apple computers were not sold.

In fact, the deal with the HP iPod may have been a smart part of Apple’s corporate jiu-jitsu. In 2015 Medium post, titled “How Steve Jobs Fleeced Carly Fiorina,” journalist Steven Levy suggested the move was strategic to block HP from installing Windows Media Store on the company’s computers. Although HP did get an HP iPod, Apple soon upgraded its own iPod – making the HP version obsolete. Levy writes:

In short, Fiorina’s “good friend” Steve Jobs heartlessly robbed her and HP’s shareholders. By forcing Fiorina to adopt the iPod as HP’s music player, Jobs effectively installed his software on millions of computers for free, stifled his main competitor and forced the company, which was proud of the discovery, to declare Apple a superior inventor. And he lost nothing but the few minutes it took him to call Carly Fiorina and say he was sorry she got the can.

Unplug the HP iPod

In the end, the deal failed to deliver the sales figures HP had hoped for. HP terminated the contract on July 29, 2005, although the company was contractually obligated to install iTunes on its computers by January 2006. Some time later, it launched its own Compaq audio player, which failed to make waves.

Remember the Apple iPod + HP? Were you first exposed to iTunes via an HP computer? Let us know in the comments below.





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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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