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


The Apple iPod + HP flopped, but it was still a savvy business move for Apple
Do you remember the HP-branded iPod?
Photo: Keegan/Wikipedia CC

January 8: Today in Apple history: Apple iPod + HP debuts January 8, 2004: The clumsily named iPod+HP, a Hewlett-Packard-branded iPod, debuts at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Shown off by Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the prototype device is blue, the color used for HP’s branding. By the time it arrives on the market later that year, however, the digital music player is the same shade of white as the regular iPod. The device doesn’t hang around for long, either.

Apple iPod+HP = Not a meaningful collaboration

On paper, the collaboration between Hewlett-Packard and Apple seemed to come out of left field. There was, however, a shared history between the two companies. As a kid, Steve Jobs looked up HP co-founder Bill Hewlett in the phone book. He wound up getting a summer job at the company. HP also employed Steve Wozniak during the time he worked on the Apple-1 and Apple II computers.

Over the years, Apple recruited several high-performing individuals from HP, too. And HP maintained a campus in Cupertino until 2010, when it sold the land to Apple to build Apple Park.

Regardless of these ties, the iPod+HP never came across like a meaningful collaboration between the two companies.

Jobs typically loathed licensing Apple technology, which explains why he was never keen to port Mac OS to other systems. (He only begrudgingly did this with the NeXTSTEP operating system at NeXT.) Jobs immediately canceled the licensed “clone Macs” when he returned to Apple in the late 1990s.

The iPod+HP marked the only time Jobs ever licensed the official iPod name to another company — although he did license iTunes to Motorola to create the first (sort of) Apple phone (another disaster, by the way).

Steve Jobs’ smart strategy

By 2004, Jobs had backed down on his hard-line view that the iTunes Music Store should never be available on a non-Mac computer. The service had expanded to Windows PCs in late 2003. However, HP was the only Windows manufacturer that ever got its own iPod variant.

As part of the deal, iTunes came preinstalled on all HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario computers. In theory, it was a win-win for both companies. HP got a unique selling point, while Apple could further broaden its iTunes market. This gave iTunes a presence in places like Walmart and RadioShack, where Apple computers weren’t sold.

In fact, the HP iPod deal may have been a smart bit of corporate jiu-jitsu on Apple’s part. In a 2015 Medium post, titled “How Steve Jobs Fleeced Carly Fiorina,” journalist Steven Levy suggested that the move was a strategic one to block HP from installing Windows Media Store on the company’s PCs. While HP did indeed get an HP-branded iPod, soon afterward Apple upgraded its own iPod — thereby making HP’s version outdated. Levy writes:

In short, Fiorina’s “good friend” Steve Jobs blithely mugged her and HP’s shareholders. By getting Fiorina to adopt the iPod as HP’s music player, Jobs had effectively gotten his software installed on millions of computers for free, stifled his main competitor, and gotten a company that prided itself on invention to declare that Apple was a superior inventor. And he lost nothing, except the few minutes it took him to call Carly Fiorina and say he was sorry she got canned.

Pulling the plug on the HP iPod

Ultimately, the deal failed to deliver the kind of sales figures HP hoped for. On July 29, 2005, HP terminated the deal, although the company was contractually obligated to install iTunes on its computers until January 2006. Eventually, HP launched its own Compaq audio player, which failed to make waves.

Do you remember the iPod+HP? Were you first exposed to iTunes through an HP computer? Let us know in the comments below.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.