HP is preparing to reengage in the digital music market, following the termination of its exclusive deal with Apple to distribute HP-branded iPods.

The company's executive vice president Todd Bradley confirmed such plans last week, during which he also revealed the company would honour its contractual obligation to install iTunes on PCs HP ships until January 2006. Beyond that, the future of even vestiges of the HP/Apple deal are shady.

Bradley stressed his belief that opportunity remains in the digital music market, but gave little away: "It's going to boil down to who can create a solution that lets you get the music you want, when you want it, and where you want it," he said.

Leadership challenge

It's a shame really. When the Apple/HP digital music deal was revealed, then CEO Carly Fiorina said: "By partnering with Apple, we have the opportunity to add value by integrating the world's best digital music offering into HP's larger digital entertainment system strategy."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was equally eloquent: "As the industry balkanises by offering digital music wrapped in a multitude of incompatible proprietary technologies, consumers will be reassured in getting the same unparalleled digital music solutions from both HP and Apple, two leaders in the digital music era," he said.

It's likely HP will now choose to deliver solutions based on Microsoft's Windows Media technology.