Palm Pre got webOS 1.1 today and the surprise feature was that it re-hacks iTunes sync, once and for all proving Palm's new management -- in this area -- cares more about thumbing their nose at Apple and strutting in front of the press than they do about Palm and the Pre user base.
Yeah, this will be an editorial of the scathing variety. You've been warned...
Palm got an astounding and impressive number of things right with webOS. The multitasking is great, the notifications sublime, the SDK a stroke of genius, and the Classic emulator smart, smart, smart. Palm's done so much so right, it's flabbergasting that they've handled iTunes sync so boneheadedly wrong.
What's so wrong about it? It doesn't serve the webOS/Palm Pre user. Bottom line, no company should ever base a user experience on something they don't own or license. Regardless of caveats like version numbers, Palm telling Pre users they can sync with iTunes when Palm can't guarantee it will work going forward is irresponsible.
RIM/BlackBerry and Nokia, by contrast, sync with the iTunes XML file which won't break if iTunes updates. Sure, it's not the way an iPod syncs, but then they aren't -- and the Palm Pre isn't -- and iPod.
We've spoken before about user confusion. Stick a Palm Pre into iTunes and it pretends to be an iPod, but it can't sync iTunes movies, can't sync App Store apps. That breaks the user experience (my mother has no idea what DRM is, but she sure knows what "not working" is). And if iTunes is updated and, even if purely by accident, Palm Pre can no longer sync, it shatters the user experience. ("No, see mom, Apple and Palm are like rivals and-- yes, I know you can't get your ABBA to play. Sigh. Again--")
See, we're not talking about pro level users here. This isn't DVD Jon hacking iTunes DRM and experts going in to set up the sync themselves. That's closer to Jailbreak, you roll your own dice and takes your own chances.
We're talking about average users who go in thinking they can sync with iTunes just like an iPod. That's incredibly unfair to them.
So why is Palm doing it? First, it's important to remember current Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein was formerly head of the iPod division at Apple, and brought a lot of iPod and iPhone engineers (and PR people) with him to work on webOS and the Pre. That's reportedly caused some animosity between Palm and Apple. Second, look at all the press it generates for them.
Even putting aside whether Palm, with all that iPod brain trust, could prove reverse-engineering in a clean room, it comes off as looking like they did it to show they could, and to get the required action from Apple to generate buzz and attention.
The original hack was just a USB masquerade and was easy for Apple to stop. This hack, while currently unidentified, is likely deeper and perhaps not as trivial. That makes the first hack look like a sacrificial pawn in a chess gambit, with the second (and third, fourth?) more like Bishops and Queens lined up, ready and waiting.
But Palm isn't playing with game pieces, they're playing with that average user who just wants a reliable sync solution for his or her (or moms!) media. Palm is putting that user behind their own ego -- to show up former big boss Apple -- and attention seeking -- to hook the blogsphere in riveting rounds of cat and mouse posts.
And that's not right. It's not right for Apple, who'll get blamed for Palm's manipulations. It's not right for Palm who is better than this, and has created an otherwise exemplary new platform. It's not right for the engineers on both sides who waste time hacking and patching unlicensed sync rather than working on great new features. And it's absolutely not right for Palm Pre users who deserve that BlackBerry or Nokia quality sync experience, legitimately for their very own.
How about it Palm, how about we re-task those engineers into making a great iTunes Library XML sync for all the users who stuck by the original Palm, through the years in the desert, and into the clouds?