HP missed a chance and its decision to stop selling re-branded iPods offers Apple more, not less, opportunity, an analyst said.

Analysts at Needham & Co. and First Albany remain optimistic for Apple's future fortunes.

In a research note, Needham & Co. analyst Charles Wolf said: "While HP's decision should have little, if any, impact on iPod sales, the company missed a golden opportunity to build a material revenue stream at little expense.  HP's departure opens the door for Apple to expand the iPod's distribution network even more rapidly than it has in the past."

HP missed the golden chance

He points to HP's global network of 100,000 distribution outlets, and criticises that company's execution of the short-lived deal.

"The partnership barely got off the ground.  It's impossible to say whose fault it was - Apple's or HP's.  HP's strategy to enhance the iPod with brightly coloured paper covers was hardly consistent with the company's desired image of an innovative company.  And despite the opportunity to sell the iPod abroad in markets Apple could not reach, HP appears to have confined its sales to US retailers," he wrote.

Though HP accounted for 5 per cent of iPod sales, Wolf believes not having HP aboard to be, "unlikely to have more than a nominal impact on iPod sales".

Apple must be aggressive

The analyst recommends Apple prioritises selling key products into specific markets, such as propelling iPod shuffle sales in the Far East. "Apple will have to become even more aggressive in signing-up retailers abroad if it hopes to fully realize the potential of the iPod," he observes.

For Wolf, the major risk for Apple investors sits in accurately assessing the impact of the iPod halo on Mac sales. Despite this note of caution, Wolf reasserted a $52 price target on the company's stock.

First Albany yesterday repeated its "buy" assessment on Apple's shares while raising the target price from $44 to $48.

Analysts there called worries that HP's exit would affect iPod sales, "unwarranted".