In a curious move, HP announced yesterday that it will soon join the suddenly crowded market for online music services. HP will apparently license software from Musicmatch, which has its own service that it already licenses to Dell, the leading PC maker. And in a move sure to raise the ire of Apple Computer fans, HP even announced that it will expand its growing selection of consumer-electronics devices to include a portable digital audio player similar to Apple's iPod. Unlike the iPod, however, HP will support Microsoft's popular Windows Media Audio (WMA) format; Apple's music service and portable player are the only such products that don't support WMA.
HP's plans seem to mirror those of other PC makers such as Dell and Gateway, which see consumer electronics as a huge growth market, especially during a time when PC sales have slowed. But the online music market is far more crowded than the PC market. In addition to established players such as market-leader Apple, BuyMusic.com, Napster, and RHAPSODY, HP will compete with Dell, Wal-Mart, Sony, Viacom/MTV, and probably a host of other companies by the time HP's service goes online in early 2004.