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Apple Obliquely Warns Palm Over “Unsupported” Media Players

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As the handheld world waits on iPhone OS 3.0, Apple (s aapl) may be planning a pre-emptive strike on “unsupported third-party digital media players.” A new technical note in the support knowledgebase certainly seems to imply that.

Without mentioning any names, Apple warns that, regarding iTunes integration, the company “does not provide support for” other hardware, and that “newer versions of Apple’s iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with non-Apple digital media players.” Of course, we all know this is about the Palm (s palm) Pre.

When the Pre was launched, Palm was happy to demonstrate it syncing with iTunes. Jon Lech Johansen first described the likely process through which this was done.

  • When you select “Media Sync” on the Pre, it will switch its USB interface to use Apple’s Vendor Id and the Product Id for a specific iPod model
  • The Pre exposes a filesystem through Mass Storage Class that mimics the structure of an iPod
  • The Pre responds to Apple’s custom USB command and returns XML info about the device

In other words, it’s a hack, which explains why Palm was careful to say that the “feature” was only compatible with iTunes 8.1.1 on Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X version 10.3.9-10.5.7. Now, Palm is saying something else, as John Paczkowski at Digital Daily reports the company’s response.

If Apple chooses to disable media sync in a future version of iTunes, it will be a direct blow to their users who will be deprived of a seamless synchronization experience. However, people will have options. They can stay with the iTunes version that works to sync their music on their Pre, they can transfer the music via USB, and there are other third-party applications we could consider.

It’s likely only a matter of time until Apple breaks syncing between the Pre and iTunes, and Palm’s response seems to indicate the company will not attempt another workaround. The saga will likely end here, unless Palm investor Roger McNamee has something to say, and he always does.

8 Responses to “Apple Obliquely Warns Palm Over “Unsupported” Media Players”

  1. It sounds to me like Apple is really going out of their way to keep Palm out of their software. Since the Pre is “pretending” to be an iPod, you’d really have to try hard to check that it wasn’t and block it out.

    I’m okay with Apple doing it, I just think it’s silly their hiding behind all this rhetoric. Instead of saying “newer versions of Apple’s iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with non-Apple [devices]” and pretending like it’s a accident thing, they should really just say “iTunes is for Apple devices, PERIOD.”

    Anyway, this just shows that Apple’s afraid of competition.

  2. I wonder if this is something that will actually be easy for Apple to shut down. If the Pre is identifying itself the way that iPods do, how would Apple tell the difference? I wonder if that would require Apple to update not just iTunes, but the firmware of every iPod out there.

    It sounds like it’s a fairly intricate hack, and considering that the Pre folks were Apple folks, one can imagine that they’ve already thought through the easy ways Apple could shut them down.

    It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out.

  3. I’m fine with Apple disabling the back door iTunes functionality for the Pre. Palm is already spinning it as underhanded, but the reality is that building the back door in the first place was the first underhanded move by Palm, not to mention a lot of bridges burned by Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein, the former Apple employee.

    At the end of the day, Apple isn’t beholden to another company’s customers or shareholders, and they’re certainly not obligated to support another company’s product. iTunes functionality is one of the big selling points for the iPhone, and it’s their prerogative to protect that.