Sun, Jul 26, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Palm Pre dodges Apple’s iTunes obstacle


Palm’s Pre smartphone just can’t stay away from Apple’s iTunes software.

Palm Inc says the Pre can again connect to iTunes — only a week after Apple Inc shut it out.

A software update delivered automatically to the smartphones re-enables the transfer of music, photos and video from iTunes to Pre phones, a Palm blog post said late on Thursday.

The question is how long the function will remain before Apple stamps it out again.

The US$200 Pre, launched early last month as a competitor to Apple’s iPhone, became the first non-Apple device that could connect directly to iTunes.

But Apple crippled that function with an iTunes update last week, saying Pre handsets were “falsely pretending to be iPods.”

Palm’s latest workaround is similar to the original trick it performed. When a Pre is connected to a computer through a USB port, the device gives out a hardware vendor code that Apple has been assigned by an industry standards group, the USB Implementers’ Forum.

ITunes then recognizes the Pre as an Apple device and let users transfer content to it.

Palm spokeswoman Lynn Fox said her company thinks Apple is improperly using its USB vendor code.

She would not elaborate, but presumably, Palm believes Apple should not be allowed to set iTunes to respond only to devices with Apple’s USB codes.

The USB group’s rules, however, appear not to be in Palm’s favor.

A “vendor ID used by a product must match the [ID code] of the company producing the product,” the rules state.

Fox said that Palm had notified the group of its steps to make the Pre work with iTunes.

The USB Implementers Forum had no comment.

In any case, Apple does not appear likely to let the latest incursion stand.

“As we’ve said before, newer versions of Apple’s iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with unsupported digital media players,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said.

The iTunes battle is part of a larger rivalry between Apple and Palm, whose CEO, Jon Rubinstein, once was an executive at Apple and oversaw the iPod.

The Pre includes a “multi-touch” screen like Apple’s iPhone, which lets users do things like pinch the display to zoom in and out.

Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, is not surprised that Palm came up with a way to reconnect the Pre with iTunes.

He expects the technology equivalent of a game of whack-a-mole to continue for a while, because he doesn’t envision Apple giving in to Palm.

Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu doesn’t think Palm’s compatibility fix was the right way to go, saying that “hacking someone else’s software, especially if you’re a publicly traded company, doesn’t seem that professional.”

He thinks Palm should come up with its own iTunes-like software instead.

“They can call it PalmTunes or something,” he said.

Carl Zulauf, a Pre owner in Omaha, Nebraska, said the iTunes feature wasn’t that important, but he didn’t like Apple’s attempt to disable it.

“It seems like Apple’s gone out of their way to make their product as incompatible with competitors’ as possible,” he said.

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