PepsiCo, Burton Snowboards, Volkswagen and America Online have all struck branding deals with Apple Computer in a quest to capitalise on the gadget's massive popularity.

Now, with a freshly inked deal with Hewlett-Packard, the world's No 2 computer maker, Apple, may have scored its most significant marketing coup yet. It also gets a crucial boost onto Windows-based computer desktops.

HP's decision to scrap its own development plans for a portable music player and online music store in favour of the shiny iPod and its iTunes pay-per-song internet store paints another coat of luster on the consumer electronics' sensation of the moment.

In less than a year, iPod and its iTunes support sheath have broken open the world of digital music, drawing dozens of rivals into the market, as the music industry surrendered its internet inhibitions.
 
Apple has now sold more than 2 million iPods, making it the top seller of hard-disk portable audio players with more than 50%market share. ITunes has dispensed more than 30 million songs at 99 cents a pop.

An HP iPod

Coated in HP's signature blue hue, the iPod will get a new name under the Hewlett-Packard brand. But everyone will know it's an iPod.

"The second largest manufacturer of Windows computers, for digital music at least, is standardising on the Apple platform, and that has never happened before." 

Phil Leigh, analyst with Inside Digital Media.

"We looked at the music space and said, `There's a great digital music player and a great music store out there, so it's logical for us to partner,"' HP CEO Carly Fiorina said in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The drawing board for an HP-developed portable player and online music store was shelved after Apple called about a possible deal, Fiorina said.

'Win-win positions'

The deal means the iTunes music jukebox program will be pre-installed on all of HP desktops and laptops beginning this summer, a plus for Apple, whose computers are limited to a niche of less than 5% of the worldwide PC market share.

"The second largest manufacturer of Windows computers, for digital music at least, is standardising on the Apple platform, and that has never happened before," said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media.

HP's pricing has not been announced, but Apple's iPods start at $299. Apple's new, cheaper, compact model is not part of the HP deal.

Executives say Apple wields tremendous influence when it goes to the bargaining table with other companies.

Cupertino, California-based Apple has a record of product and marketing innovation, a top-tier brand and a charismatic chief executive in Steve Jobs who last year persuaded record label executives to get over their copy-protection worries and make more of their music available on the Internet with fewer restrictions.

"We looked at the music space and said, `There's a great digital music player and a great music store out there, so it's logical for us to partner."'

Carly Fiorina,
HP CEO

Cola deal

In October, Pepsi signed a deal with Apple to give away 100 million songs from the iTunes Music Store, making one of every three Pepsi customers a winner.

The marketing campaign begins 1 February with a Super Bowl commercial, a rare instance of the soda giant promoting another's company's product, said Katie Lacey, Pepsi's vice president of colas and media.

Others are also trying to capitalise on the iPod juggernaut.

Burton Snowboards announced last year it would make the first wearable electronic jacket with a built-in iPod control system, allowing users to control their music from right on the sleeve without fumbling with zippers, gloves or pockets.

In December, America Online added a direct link to the iTunes Music Store from its AOL music website, and Griffin Technology developed an adapter designed specifically to mount onto the iPod and turn the player into a portable FM radio station.

Back in July, it was iPod on wheels.

Volkswagen and Apple launched a marketing campaign dubbed "Pods Unite." During the three-month promotion, iPods were shown in VW showrooms, and VW sold an iPod connectivity wiring and cradle tailored for the New Beetle.