The Tide is Rising

Both under the hood and above it, the Apple iPod from HP looks just like the Apple iPod from Apple. It has the same Click Wheel, backlit black and white LCD screen and the same chrome and white case design. So what's the big deal? It's all in the distribution and the potential market.

HP has much broader retail reach than Apple does. You'll soon find Apple iPods from HP on the store shelves of Circuit City, CompUSA, Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples, Radio Shack, Fry's Electronics, Amazon.com and Costco. Some of these are brand new venues for Apple. And this isn't just limited to the United States, either: HP's global reach is fantastic.

HP makes no secret that it might be competing with Apple for the hearts and minds of iPod customers in some of these stores, but the company said that PC users are just bound to feel more comfortable buying an iPod from HP than they would buying one from Apple. That Apple logo on the box may make some less educated PC users worried that what they're buying won't work right with their Windows box. HP is banking that their familiar logo right along side Apple's will ameliorate that concern.

Although the iPod is the same whether you buy it from Apple or HP -- save an HP logo on the chrome backside and different packaging in the same familiar boxy shape -- the documentation HP includes is Windows-specific, and HP offers its own one-year warranty for the iPod including toll-free telephone tech support for the duration. A nice touch, though PC users are bound to require such help a bit more than Mac users.

The breakout hit of HP's announcement for the existing iPod audience is the introduction of HP Printable Tattoos -- mildly adhesive but removable labels that let you customize your iPod with your own graphics. You layout and design a template on your computer then print it out on special HP Printable Tattoo paper. The tattoos peel off the page and stick to your iPod, and last about four to six weeks -- they don't leave any residue when you pull them off, either. HP also plans to offer some pre-printed ones if you don't want to go through the trouble. And HP Printable Tattoos will work on any Click Wheel iPod from Apple or HP.

Some analysts have already predicted that HP will ultimately outsell Apple with its own device. I don't think that's cause for concern -- if anything, that's good news for Apple. This isn't a licensing deal, after all. Apple was careful not to fall into the same trap as it did when it licensed its motherboard designs to clone makers. Apple's making the iPods for HP, and HP is selling them. Apple's still making money regardless of whose iPod is sold.

So as you see HP use its formidable retail distribution strength to muscle the iPod onto store shelves, just remember that a rising tide raises all ships -- those captained by Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina alike.

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