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HP, Mattel team on Barbie printer

Barbie, in addition to her other talents, is taking on a slightly less glamorous role: printer salesperson.

Barbie, in addition to her talents as an astronaut, professional basketball player, and ballerina, is taking on a slightly less glamorous role: printer salesperson.

Hewlett-Packard's Apollo subsidiary and Mattel tomorrow will introduce the Apollo P-1220 Barbie color ink jet printer. The two companies are betting that Barbie's popularity in the children's gaming market will compel parents to purchase the relatively inexpensive pink and gray printers.

The new printer is only the third announced product from Apollo, which was launched this January. Charged with developing and marketing low-price printers and peripherals with jazzy new colors and designs, Apollo is following in the footsteps of Apple and its popular iMac computer.

The news also marks the latest move by Mattel in its continuing bid to change itself as a digital entertainment company, in addition to a traditional toy seller. So far, this effort has included the acquisition of software companies The Learning Company and Purple Moon, and deals with Intel.

"Mattel is very excited about continuing to focus on girl-branded technology with the Barbie printer," said David Haddad, president of Mattel Media, in a statement. "Coupled with our best-selling Barbie software titles, the printer makes technology more fun and accessible to young girls."

As for HP, the company ostensibly created the separate Apollo brand so as not to diminish its reputation for high-quality peripherals. However, analysts have expressed some skepticism, noting that other companies like Canon and Epson have been offering relatively cheap printers with better print quality for some time.

But Apollo's move to align itself with Mattel, which is quickly becoming a major player in the children's software market, may signal that the company has more up its sleeve than $79 printers.

The gray and pink Apollo P-1220 comes with Barbie decals and the Barbie Magic Hair Styler CD-ROM. HP and Mattel are hoping that the popularity of other Barbie games will help drive sales of the printer, observers say. Barbie Nail Designer and Barbie Riding Club were among the top 20 selling game titles last year according to PC Data.

"The Barbie printer provides a simple, fun, and affordable way for girls to express their creativity by giving them the technology they need to print colorful creations," said Mohan Garde, Apollo's general manager in a statement.

Still, the market for technology products aimed at girls has been rocky at best. Although Mattel has found success with its Barbie CD-ROMs, they are the only girls' games that made PC Data's top 20 list. And Purple Moon, one of the only companies to create software targeted exclusively at girls, ceased operations earlier this year, before being acquired by Mattel.

Although it is unclear how many Barbie printers will be flying off the shelves, Apollo's strategy of moving beyond cheap hardware to align with established brands may pay off in the long run, analysts say.

The Apollo P-1220 Barbie is available exclusively at Best Buy stores through the summer, with an estimated retail price of $79. The printer will be available at other retailers in the fall.