In American politics, there’s a formula for anecdotes that win over voters. Poor grandpas and religious awakenings alway play well, and so does invoking the name of capitalist saint Steve Jobs.
GOP presidential candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina mentioned Jobs during the second Republican primary debate last month. Fiorina relayed an anecdote about how the Apple founder and orange food enthusiast called to console her after she lost her job at HP. The story set her up as Jobs’ equal—just another brilliant tech magnate in a rut before an inevitable glorious rebound. If only her assured rhetoric was anything more than blather.
In 2004, Fiorina and Jobs made a deal so HP could sell HP-branded iPods. The deal worked for Apple because HP agreed to install iTunes on its PCs, and at the time Apple was trying to edge Windows Music and other competitors out. It worked for HP (in theory, in very stupid theory) because the company was devoid of its own ideas for music players and people liked to buy iPods. In practice, the HP iPod was an embarrassment.
As Steven Levy—who interviewed Fiorina about the HP iPod at the time —explains for Backchannel, HP’s end of the deal left the company peddling outdated versions of the device:
Fiorna boasted to me that she would be able to sell the devices in thousands of retail outlets; up to that point Apple mostly sold them online and in its own stores. But by the time in mid-2004 that HP actually began selling its branded iPods, Apple was expanding to multiple retail outlets on its own. And soon after HP began selling iPods, Apple came out with new, improved iPods — leaving HP to sell an obsolete device. Fiorina apparently did not secure the right to sell the most current iPods in a timely fashion, and was able to deliver newer models only months after the Apple versions were widely available.
Fiorina tried to hype the HP iPod at CES by insisting that it’d come in a blue color, but that never happened. And as Levy tells it, Jobs had no intention of letting her customize his iconic music player:
She was adamant that HP had the right to determine what color the HP iPod would be. Knowing Steve Jobs and his protectiveness about all things design, this sounded dubious to me. I got on the phone with him that very day, and asked him if HP would be producing blue iPods. There was a significant pause. “We’ll see,” he finally said with a bit of ice in his voice.
HP ended its iPod-branding deal with Apple shortly after Fiorina was fired.
Image: AP (There are no photos of Fiorina and Jobs, but enjoy this photograph of Fiorina and Gwen Stefani.)