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HP seeks larger role in iPod mania

Computer maker releases a pod-friendly PC and plans to add co-branded iPod Photo devices in the coming weeks. Photo: HP's prime spot for iPod

The first computer with a built-in spot for an iPod is on its way--and it's not a Mac.

Hewlett-Packard is planning to add a prime spot for Apple Computer's music player in its latest Media Center m7000 desktop PC. The computer doesn't have a dock itself, but rather features a molded piece of plastic that fits around Apple's own dock to allow the device to gracefully dock atop the PC.

HP's iPod

The move raises the question of when consumers will see a similar feature on a Mac. By some accounts, Apple itself had been planning to include some kind of built-in dock in the Mac Mini, but pulled the feature before the product was announced in January. An Apple representative declined to comment.

At the same time, the move signals that HP has not lost interest in the iPod.

HP released 20GB and 40GB iPods last year, but has not updated its line since then, even as Apple has added color models and dropped prices. In January, then-CEO Carly Fiorina said that HP would offer a version of the iPod Photo. However, since then, HP's board has ousted Fiorina and the company has not introduced any new iPods.

But new HP-branded iPods are on the way and should be announced in the coming weeks, said Siobhan O'Connor, HP's vice president of consumer brand and marketing.

"Expect us to have, like we did with the original products, a very similar lineup to what Apple has," O'Connor told CNET News.com.

O'Connor said that HP has been satisfied with its sales of the iPod. "We're really pleased with the market share percentages we've attained in launching the product," she said. "There was incredible demand for the iPods during the holiday season."

HP has been criticized for not doing enough to capitalize on the iPod's success.

"HP's iPod sales are likely to decline markedly over the next few quarters unless HP is able to bring out new iPod models in a more timely manner," Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey said in a research note earlier this month. He estimated that HP's share of total iPod shipments could drop from 7 percent in the December quarter to just 2 percent to 3 percent for the quarter that ends this week. Bailey noted that HP has focused on white iPods, as opposed to the "faster-growing iPod Mini and iPod Shuffle segments."

In the March note, Bailey said that unless HP added the iPod photo and offered a direct link to HP printers, "the company's relationship with Apple is likely to wither and HP will miss out completely on the MP3 player phenomenon."

O'Connor noted that current Windows-formatted iPod photo devices are capable of printing to HP's portable Photosmart 375 printers, although that capability has not received widespread attention. O'Connor also said that about 40 percent of people who buy an HP iPod also buy the company's "tattoos," which let consumers print their own cover for the music player.