Is the Palm Pre Syncing with iTunes by Pretending to be an iPod?

pre-w-itunes (via MacRumors) has a theory on how the Palm Pre is managing to sync so seamlessly with iTunes. Read the full post for details, but their conclusion is a tad concerning:

  • 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

They warn -- like we have -- that this will be pretty simple for Apple to intentionally prevent, uncaringly break, or accidentally bug up (they've done all three to jailbreakers in the past, after all, and expecting Apple to devote time and engineers to maintaining compatibility for unlicensed devices is just this side of silly).

Their advice? Anticipate Palm Pre iTunes sync to go the way of the dodo and fast. Then get a copy of DVD Jon's DoubleTwist and sync your hearts out that way...

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Is the Palm Pre Syncing with iTunes by Pretending to be an iPod?


I envision an update battle between Apple and Palm. Apple releases an iTunes update that breaks the Pre syncing. Then Palm updates the Pre to work again, and so on and so on. Round and round they go.

Why wouldn't Palm use the same method(s) other companies use to sync with iTunes? Does Palm's method have any advantages over the usual method?

Wow and they call this the iphone killer? It just copies everything good about the iphone. At least the storm does its own thing.

Question is does Apple really want to stop this? Some reasons to consider:
1) Look at all of the free media Apple is getting by showing a Pre connect to an iTunes account on an Apple PC. My advice is take the free advertisements when you can get them.
2) If a Pre owner is syncing with iTunes that means that they are likely going to download music from iTunes. Another win for Apple - incremental revenue and more power over the record labels by making iTunes the largest sales channel for music.
3) Opportunity. Sell Pre users whatever will work from iTunes. If you can sell them video and even their own Apps so be it. This will cut the legs out of Palm's own app store.
4) Find a way to open up MobileMe to them. This way you get Pre users on Apple's mail service and this allows them to sync their contacts, calendar and pictures on the service. That's $100/year to Apple in revenue and makes Apple more of a necessity.
If Apple wants to play the game of bringing their friends close and enemies closer they can build features that Pre users wish they had and the only way they would get is if they owned an iPhone. Suddenly, they'd realize the Pre is just not the same thing and they'll realize the error of their ways and consider an iPhone the next time around. The transition back will be made easy for them because all of their content will already be on Apple software making a sync to an iPhone all the easier.

That's silly. Itunes is Apple's asset and seamless capability is what Apple can use to set their ipods/iphone apart.
I like the Pre as much as anyone, but Palm fails here. The opportunity for palm is to build a better "itunes" and go with Amazon along with their own apps. Instead they acknowledge the power of itunes and basically tell people that itunes is the way to go. If that's true, then the iphone is the way to go.
Just plain dumb for many reasons if that's Palm's answer that Apple can break over and over.

That's something bad and good anyway... If the use itunes they are showing his needs for using an apple's device because are better and of course almost perfect xD.
Palm Pre need to do more then that to be a really Iphone competition, I like palm, actually I had a palm before my iPhone and was really cool, but I need my iPhone to live xD

@reptile, all great points. Those would be a sure fire way to solidify iTunes as the default media hub. Open it up too more devices. Just think if they said you can connect your WinMo, BB, Pre, Andriod phone to iTunes and get all your media there (apps remain iPhone/iPod Touch only, keep it simple for developers at this time). I'd say chances are extremely high that those "other" smart phone users own an iPod already and know how to use iTunes.
Only real problem is Apple could just say, all our music is DRM free so they could still buy there and then drag/drop to their device of choice.

I really don't see this as a bad move on Palm part. I think they see this as a way to steal customers from Apple

3 problems from Apple's PoV:
1) They have very low margins on iTunes content. They just run the store so people will buy iPods, which are high margin. Selling low margin media to people who give their money to Palm (or BB, MS, etc.) makes no sense to Apple's bottom line and they're profit centric, not market centric.
2) Telling Palm Pre users they can hook up and sync with iTunes, even if you specify “DRM free music, photos (?!), and videos” is all fun and games until a) users can’t transfer their iPhone apps and blame Apple, b) a routine (or not so) update to iTunes breaks Pre compatibility and users blame Apple. If Palm licensed the connection, Apple would be bound to keep forward compatibility which is better for Palm Pre users.
3) Legal protections need to be protected. Otherwise they tend to get lost. See Apple v Psystar

@Rene, right now it's Palm pitching iTunes compatibility. Apple has the right to make changes to iTunes as they evolve the iPhone/iPod Touch OS and iPod firmware. If something gets broken the burden is on Palm to update WebOS to reflect the new iTunes code and API changes. Apple is not warrenting the Pre or making claims of compatibility. Rubenstein knows how Apple operates and would not be ready to add this feature and make it public if he were not ready to maintain the compatibility as frequently as required to make his devices work. So he really has two choices - to work like a jailbreaker and piss off his install base when Apple makes changes and sync doesn't work or to do it via agreement where there is a license and he gets betas and is prepared to launch updates as iTunes is updated which will allow him to keep his promises to his customers.

Surely Palm have just licensed this from Apple. I can't see them advertising iTunes integration based around a hack :/

The vindictive "fanboy" in me (man, I hate that word...) wants apple to non-maliciously brick the Pre when it connects to iTunes, even though that would probably lead to a lawsuit regardless. Still...I would laugh my ass off.

Thus far, there has only been one preliminary ruling in Apple v Pystar, and it was against Apple. Psystar just filed Chapter 11, though, so it will likely be irrelevant. Regardless, what legal protection is in play? A DMCA one? Palm would have a solid case for an interoperability-based exception, though it would be expensive for both Apple and Palm to fight.
Agree 100% -- regardless of whether Palm has the right to build instead of license, if they are stupid enough to build a selling point into their firmware that a competitor can break by updating their software, they deserve to fail.

I can't speak for Canada, but in the US it is not illegal to make a device that interacts with software as long as you do not use the software's internal code.
Anything exposed over the wire is fair game. Without this, there would be no interoperability of common devices. There would be no point in even making standards such as USB or Firewire or SATA, because it would be illegal to use them.
Reverse engineering for interoperability is legal.
Pystar is NOT a good analogy. They were using Apple's OS in THEIR machines, by faking an Apple locking device.
As for the margin on iTunes sales, its plenty profitable all by itself, estimates one year ago ranging as high as 360 million pure profit per year. It stands by itself, and does not require sales of additional hardware to prop it up.

This is clearly a hypothesis, and I find it ridiculous. Unless Apple has closed down the iTunes ecosystem from allowing hardware plugins, there's no reason for silly tricks. It won't be able to play FairPlay DRM'ed content from the iTunes store, but anything else that can play on a device should be transferrable with a proper plugin.
This reminded me of a past issue people had with iTunes before network sharing was built in. A third party made a free plugin that let you share music between machines over network. Apple released the SDK to allow for adding direct hardware support, not for network or otherwise, and shut down the third party plugin. That said, the Pre is hardware, and is precisely what the SDK is for. And since then, Apple has expanded their sync services, which is also free game for any developer to add support for additional destinations. MySync, which I beleive works like MobileMe between desktops, but syncs locally over a network, rather than to a cloud and back. Just to name one.
ref on the network sharing via a plugin using the SDK intended only for hardware support:
Nothing to see here.

The blog software breaks links that contain a lot of underscore characters.
Use to make a portable link.

if i get the correctly, the Pre is showing up as an iPod. This sounds to me like they're using their knowledge of what they did at Apple to get the Pre to do this. Isn't that using Apples IP? And doesn't that mean Apple has a right to make then stop?

RIM distributes an app called Media Sync that lets you sync your Blackberry with iTunes. This lets me have my music on both my iPhone and Blackberry. Its been out for more than a year and Apple doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

@The Reptile
That is hardly a review, if you had read through the comments you would have learned the unit BGR has is not a final version, hence the reason some features do not work, that device is not even active on the network, and the keyboard on that unit is different than the final version. Actually, the unit BGR has was not sent by Sprint or Palm. Many who have been working with the Pre over the last several months have said that unit is a prototype from February of this year. What could one expect form an Apple friendly reviewer?