USB Implementors Forum on iTunes Sync: Apple's Right, Palm's Wrong

iphone_piratepre

Looks like the USB Implementers Forum has taken Apple's side over Palm's in their ongoing war of USB locking vs. USB spoofing. Digital Daily (via MacRumors) has the deets:

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the industry group that oversees the Universal Serial Bus standard, has finally responded to Palm’s (PALM) claim that Apple (AAPL) is “hampering competition” by repeatedly disabling the Palm Pre’s ability to sync with iTunes–and it’s not looking good for Palm. In a letter submitted to Apple and Palm today, the group dismissed Palm’s claim that Apple has violated its USB-IF Membership Agreement. Worse, it took issue with Palm’s alleged use of Apple’s Vendor Identification Number (VID), which it says violates USB-IF policy.

Palm's response?

“We engaged with the USB-IF because we believe consumers should have freedom and choice in how and where they use the non-rights managed media they already own. We are reviewing the letter from the USB-IF and will respond as appropriate.”

We've already weighed in on the situation in general (we think Palm has more important things to spend their limited funds and resources on), but what do you think? Is the USB-IF making the right call?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 38 comments. Add yours.

Jadedbyatt says:

Own an iPhone but agree with Palm. I see no reason to not allow other devices to sync to iTunes.

SpiceRak2 says:

Could this response from USB-IF have anything to do with Steve Job's role on the board?

Joe McG says:

It's anti consumer to restrict the Pre and allow other devices to sync. Believe it or not, Apple cannot use iTunes to wipe out competition for the iPhone.

garylapointe says:

I thought the whole idea of the the Vendor ID was so you could properly detect a device. That's Apple's choice. If they support Palm's device they'll be outrage later if it stops working later. Better they stop it now.
IF Apple is wrong it's a moral issue, not a technical issue. I specify that because Palm is technically wrong to use Apple’s Vendor Identification Number. While Apple is choosing to not support Palm.
You can't force Apple to support a piece of hardware that the software wasn't designed to support. You're forcing your customers to download iTunes and probably breaking the law (since they didn't pay for it, purchases of iPods paid for it) more likely violating iTunes EULA.
Palm would have been smarter to just write a script/program to read the iTunes playlists and just have some Palm software to ask which ones they want to sync and push it out there themselves...
Honestly, I think Apple is silly not to support it. Selling more songs is more money for them (I don't think they make a lot per song). They could probably make a deal with Palm for a some major dollars (software licensing). And expose iTunes (demonstrating Apple Software) to some additional customers, selling more iPods in return. Probably a few iPhones too!

iMorePrime says:

They don't let any non-Apple devices sync. RIM and Nokia sync via iTunes XML library file. Palm could easily do the same.

Faizaan says:

Palm is doing this in a sneaky way. If they do it the way RIM or Nokia do, there should be no problem. Pretending to be an ipod is just wrong. Why not make your own desktop client or just talk to itunes about licensing or doing it ina aboveboard manner. Why sneak around and pretend?

Rene Ritchie says:

@SpiceRak2:
Don't see Jobs or Apple on the current board:
Board of Directors
The USB-IF, Inc. Board of Directors is composed of the following companies and their designated representative Directors:
Hewlett-Packard Company - Alan Berkema
Intel Corporation - Jeff Ravencraft
LSI Corporation - Dave Thompson
Microsoft Corporation - Fred Bhesania
NEC Corporation - Steve Roux
ST-Ericsson - Geert Knapen
http://www.usb.org/about

Dan says:

I've got an iPhone and tons of Apple products, and think I'll buy more down the road, but it's this kind of walled garden approach that makes me wonder if I might find myself holding back on some future Apple purchases. No doubt it's also that walled garden approach that has made some of their products more alluring because of the consistent user experience; however, I didn't jump over to most of my Apple products until I knew they played well with others (e.g., via jailbreaking, via virtualization, etc).... If apple continues its trajectory towards a mostly locked down system (that is not easy to break out of), I'll have little problem moving over to such mobile alternatives as Android or WebOS, such OS alternatives such as Windows 7, or more likely Ubuntu Linux with VMWare/Windows for Windows-based programs, and such music playing alternaives as Songbird. I really hope Apple doesn't take their walled-garden approach too far (I do love my iPhone), but if they do, I hope there's a significant enough backlash -- which I'd be happy to be part of-- to cause the company some pain. There's probably enough competition now, and Apple isn't quite so far ahead of the pack anymore, so I think this is a possibility. In any case, if you haven't guessed, I think Apple should not keep on blocking the Palm from iTunes. Even if iTunes isn't exactly a monopoly, this still feels unfairly uncompetitive...

P Ditty says:

Good. Palm are a bunch of talentless losers who have to steal other's technology to sell their products. The pre is failing. They are failing. And if anyone argues with that. 161 million loss. Ya. Facts are facts. They deserve to be where they are.

EpiStat says:

Are we missing the point? USB-IF is not addressing the issue of whether or not the PRE should be allowed to sync with iTunes. It is simply stating that Palm is violating USB-IF policy that the device cannot pretend it is another device. Seems to me this is a reasonable policy that was in place long before the PRE.

Vox says:

So...Toyota should allow GM to use their engines for free just because GM is more broke than Toyota? Bull.
If Palm wants to sync, let them write their own software; if it wants to sync with itunes, let them do it the way everybody else does.

smchrist2 says:

Apple made and owns iTunes. And being able to sync perfectly with iTunes is a great selling point for the iPhone, one that palm doesn't have a right to. If palm really wants to sync with something they can A.) get a deal with another thing like rhapsody. B.) make their own software. Or C.) ask nicely and apologize and settle for iTunes XML file like RIM and Nokia.
They're wasting their money by going there. (I did that sentence on purpose. It has all three theres in it :D )

jeffgus says:

"They don’t let any non-Apple devices sync. RIM and Nokia sync via iTunes XML library file. Palm could easily do the same."
There would be a lot more support issues using that method (installing, etc) over letting iTunes drop the files onto the devices and then reading the DB files.
Ya have to admit, the Pre method is a very clean way of doing it. The user doesn't have to install anything. The DB files on older iPod are unlikely to change. Letting iTunes copy the files presents a very stable platform for the Pre to read in the DB files.
If you think about it, quite a few programs read DB files on the iPod. If you have any program that imports music from your iPod into iTunes, you are doing the same thing Palm is doing. If you are using any program other than iTunes to manage music on your iPod, you are doing the same thing Palm is doing. The big difference, of course, is that the Pre pretends to be an iPod long enough for it to get the music files copied over.

jeffgus says:

"I thought the whole idea of the the Vendor ID was so you could properly detect a device. That’s Apple’s choice. If they support Palm’s device they’ll be outrage later if it stops working later. Better they stop it now."
How likely is it that the DB files on older iPods will suddenly change their format? It would require Apple to push out significant firmware changes to old iPods. Any 3rd party iPod tool uses these same files and would also be affected. That doesn't stop people from using them. That's the brilliance of the method Palm is using. Clean and simple.

Rob says:

I was hoping no one would force Apple into a Microsoft-like relationship with hardware vendors. It's the basis for Apple, control both the hardware and software in their products, and do it well. Apple would catch hell if Palm's equipment fails to sync properly regardless of who's at fault. Let Palm do what others need to do or actually create something themselves rather than being a parasite. People might like freedom and choice if their actually was a significant difference in the designs of iPhone lookalikes.

Bill says:

Palm needs to cut their losses on this issue and do something different. They need to offer their own complete solution to customers who take the leap of faith and buy into the first generation Pre. Those customers deserve no less. Clearly Apple is going to fight this hacking approach tooth and nail. It's not the answer.

icebike says:

@Vox:

So…Toyota should allow GM to use their engines for free just because GM is more broke than Toyota? Bull.

Mr BadAnalogyGuy, is that you??

icebike says:

@Rob:

I was hoping no one would force Apple into a Microsoft-like relationship with hardware vendors.

I don't see any hint of that in this issue.
If any "Forcing" is to be done, it will probably be by the customers, demanding interoperability of devices and data formats.

melwan says:

@icebike:
But wasn't Palm certainly hoping for the Board to "force" Apple into that corner?
At least that's what I think Rob meant; correct me if I'm wrong.
Even though the "forcing" did not happen, it was an attempt nonetheless.

Jellotime91 says:

It's apple's program, and it's their decision. It's completely within their right and Palm didn't even ask them for permission to interact with their software.

Kagan says:

iTunes is Apple's product. Plain and simple. How they design their product and what they allow you and others to do with it is their business and their choice. Either you like their product or not. If you like it then you continue to use it and if you don't like it then find something else. It's that simple. There is no gray area. If they choose to not allow Palm to sync with their product, iTunes, then that is their call. You as the consumer need to choose if you are going to continue using the Pre knowing it doesn't sync with iTunes (and stop crying that Apple isn't allowing you to use their product in a way they do not want it used) or buy into Apple's product with an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPod/Apple TV so that you can continue to use that syncing functionality.

kbduvall says:

It's funny how everyone else gets mad at apple because of other companys lack of ability to compete properly by developing their own solutions. Would there be such an uproar if it were RIM booting the Pre out of THEIR desktop syncing software instead of apple? Why should Palm be allowed to skip out on their responcibility to their customers by refusing to develop a viable syncing solution of their own instead of dragging their customers through this "it will sync, it won't sync" BS? Hell it's not even like they need to sync WITH iTunes to get the MP3s off the computer. They're just dumped in a folder.

iBamse says:

Both are both right and wrong.
Palm should not sneak in on iTunes, but instead pay a licensing fee.
Apple should not be afraid of interoperability (which they themselves heavily rely upon, exchange sync anyone...) but allow others to license their protocols.
Consumers shouldn't have to bother about this at all. If Apple gives away the iTunes application to increase sales of online media that is their choice. I should still be allowed to do with my rightfully owned piece of software whatever I want as long as it is non commercial.
Everyone is bashing Microsoft about their lack of interoperability. Now Apple is almost as dominant in their market as Microsoft, and it is about time that they also are required to allow interoperability on a protocol level to other vendors.

Scott B. says:

We Also need to Remember and Think..
1.)-iTunes is Free "FREE" Software and is Offered "OFFERED" to users with no Promises.
(If this was Purchased Software It Would Be A Different Story)
Most Important.
2.)-Apple at anytime can pull the "Free Status" of iTunes and Change the way it is Offered.
(Apple if it wanted to could add direct stipulations that the iTunes software can only be used by Apple Users that have Purchased a Genuine Apple Product for use with Macintosh or Windows based Pc's then also adding other legal standing stipulation's which inTurn could also make it a Free "Licensed Software" and the user would receive a Product Serial Number with activation online by entering your Serial Number of the Device)
I could never see this happening, But There are allot of things Apple can do to Stop this, and by rights they Should,
It's Apples Own Software Developed for Apples Hardware, Bought From Sound jam for a undisclosed price and Apple has Invested 2.6 Billion in its development.
iTunes incarnate from the Beginning was for the New to be released
Apple iPod 1st Gen.
NO Other Hardware was Officially supported, Only the few Plugins that SoundJam Left in the Base Application, But Apple Did Not Support them after the Purchase and then they Faded into Oblivion.
Apple Just Made the Mistake of Letting it be free to Anyone and just for advertisement to sell Hardware now we have an entitlement problem with the..
"I DESERVE EVERYTHING FOR FREE, CAUSE I SAY SO CROUD"
Plain And Simple Since it is Free Software Apple Could Kill It and Rename it to
"Apple iTunes Access" Change the Numbering to 10.0 and since it is Free software no one could do a thing about it.
But People seem to forget the Free "FREE" Part of how this software is distributed, You Can't Demand A DAMM thing if you get it for free,
But Self Entitled idiots are.

ThisBrian says:

I really don't understand, apple built itunes for it's products it's just that simple. Palm should pay if they want to sync with apples software. That's just dumb to think any device should use someone else's software for free if not authorized. It's just like everything else cry like a baby when you don't get what you want and blame a company that gives away free software to manage your music.

Otto says:

As much as it pains me to say it, the USB-IF is correct, Apple is correct, and Palm is wrong.
Look, here's the thing. Palm programmed their device to use a false USB identifier, to pretend to be an iPod of some type. This tricked iTunes into syncing with it.
In other words, Palm violated the USB standard. Period. That's all the USB-IF cares about.
On the issue of DRM and interoperability... iTunes and the iTunes store no longer have any DRM to speak of. The tracks are unprotected. There's nothing preventing Palm from simply writing their own syncing application, getting the track lists from iTunes, and syncing to their own device.
In other words, THEY DON'T NEED TO CHEAT to get what they want to work. They just don't want to write their own software. Hell, they could write it as a plugin for iTunes and it would work just fine. Sure, the user experience wouldn't be identical (software would need to be installed), but it'd work just fine and there's no technical reason to stop them from doing it. They wouldn't have to pay Apple one thin dime, and they wouldn't get blocked from doing it either. Other companies have already done it.
Palm is being stupid and obstinate for no bloody reason whatsoever. Just write your own damn software. Use the publicly available iTunes SDK to interface with iTunes and get the track listings/names/whatever. Then do your own sync (it's just a file copy for crying out loud). It should take a programmer less than a couple weeks to create the software to do this, as it's not that difficult. Why must Palm go through all this nonsense for no reason?

The real truth says:

Why can't palm just make their own
solution. Believe it or not I don't think it's a bad thing when a company makes both the hardware and the software. I think this sort of integration is advantageous

the real truth says:

i thought apple made itunes? huh .....wierd.....

jeffgus says:

I think Microsoft should change their USB driver to block iPods. It serves Apple right for thinking they could make a device that uses the USB block driver and then enforcing further requirements on the use of the device. MS should totally fight back.

Therealtruth (really) says:

@Jeff
your logic is a bit skewed considering the iPod still uses iTunes on a windows pc. That and the fact that the pre has nothing to do with Microsoft anyway.

jeffgus says:

@Therealtruth umm. I was being a bit sarcastic. My point was that Apple is overloading the basic use of the USB mass storage driver in Windows. The USB mass storage driver is generic. I just provides a way for devices to look like HDD's in Windows. Apple is clearly using this driver, but also enforcing additional requirements beyond what Microsoft intended. Microsoft should block the abuse of its software. ;) It doesn't make sense because it doesn't. Palm made a nice clean way of syncing songs to the Pre that didn't get in the way of anyone. It didn't require accessing any files or API's on a user's computer. Very clean hack. I would think it was brilliant except for the fact that this feature is built into the Linux gadgetfs USB driver. Palm really didn't have to do anything other than use the feature and write some code that parsed the iPod DB files. The format of those files is pretty well known since 3rd party iPod management programs also manipulate those files. Apple should really shut those guys down also. How dare anything other than iTunes touch those files!
If Apple didn't check for the use of the Vendor ID, Palm would have been happy only to spoof the Device ID so that you could always find out that the device was really a Palm. Once Apple blocked that, Palm will just continue down the road of making the device more and more a clone of the iPod. I suspect that Apple is spending much more time on their side breaking the Pre than Palm is fixing it.

kbduvall says:

@Jeff
it sounds as if you think Apple is preventing it from connecting to their OS. That's not the case.. they're only preventing them from connecting to iTunes. iTunes was developed to be the syncing software for iPods. What would you say if apple were spoofing their ID and pretending to be a BlackBerry so they could use the BlackBerry desktop software to sync instead of making their own sync software?
Palm is still more than welcome to develop their own software to sync with a Mac and even still welcome to use the open API provided to access iTunes data. Hell if they wanted, they could even just mount themselves as a hard drive on a mac and let the user drag their music onto the device.
They're just not allowed to lie about what they are and "hack" into iTunes to get out of doing their own work. Do you even want to do business with a company who has to hack or spoof to be able to sync? You would imagine it wouldn't be all that much for palm to make their own sync application.

jeffgus says:

@Keith: People use iTunes as a platform. Windows is a platform. Yes, one is an OS, the other, just an app. iTunes has gone beyond a simple app to a platform in which people purchase content and that content is payed for and transferred to their machine.
They weren't spoofing their company ID initially. They were still saying it was a Palm... a iPod from Palm.
iPods are just USB storage devices! The Pre didn't hack INTO anything. It just sits there and lets iTunes copy over the files. The work Palm had to do was write an embedded iPod DB reader. The nice thing about this is that those DB files are well documented and they haven't changed within a product release. This gave Palm a stable environment in which to read the files. It is really a pretty darn good solution. It was much simpler for Palm to write an interface to something that rarely changes (device DB files) than to write a desktop app that can break in all sorts of ways (new OS releases, iTunes releases, people moving files around, etc).
People hack around with iTunes all the time. People hack around with their iPods all the time. Apple certainly didn't intend for people to mess with the DB files on the iPods, but you can find quite a few apps that do just that. No API, no iTunes, and no license, they just access the files directly over the USB mass storage driver.
This is no different that MacOS using samba libraries so it can access Windows network shares. Samba was built before any documentation of SMB. They reversed engineered the protocol. No API, just on the wire protocol. The samba guys know the protocol better than MS. Are you saying that MacOS should never have shipped with samba libraries?

kbduvall says:

Lol you're comparing the implementation of a protocol to spoofing an iPod and you're comparing mounting a device on an OS to mounting a device on iTunes? Apples and oranges dude.
The copyright and trademarks on the iPod would probably say they're more than just a storage device. Hell I bet if I were to take a USB stick with a speaker on it and call it a Zune, MS would be calling me with their lawyers.
If it were much simpler for them to do it this way then why are they having so many problems now? If they had just done it the way they were supposed to in the first place they wouldn't be going through all this now would they?
Dude your comparisons are in a different realm and your logic makes no sense. Do you even know how many people are laughing at you right now?

jeffgus says:

Don't think in products -- think in protocols/layers and you will understand the analogy.
USB is a protocol and a physical layer. In theory you could send layer-2 USB over Ethernet. The software in the Pre is sending back data over a transmission link (this case USB). Is this any different than samba sending packets back to a Windows machine? If the physical link between an iPod and iTunes were an Ethernet link would it change anything? What if Windows decided to double check the SMB protocol number with the host string and refuse to talk to the remote machine because the string didn't match one Microsoft approved of? The samba guys would have just changed samba to match what Windows was looking for.
Palm is not calling the Pre an iPod. They're calling it a Pre. The Pre also has a mode that sends back a hex code that matches one that iTunes is looking for. Initially this was only the device ID hex code. Now it's the vendor and the device ID (a 5 minute fix). Why? Because the iTunes "protocol" demands it.
This is the simple way. A very elegant hack that ensures maximum compatibility since Apple is less likely to radically change the firmware on older devices. The solution would have never had any issues. It is Apple that is moving the target. Why? Well, they want to protect their iPod market. It is a business isn't it? Let's not think that it is really about user experience.
Oh... and another reason is rivalry since the Palm guys used to work at Apple. Again, not a real reason, just kids being kids. This will keep up because the "kids" at Palm and Apple are having fun with this.

Lt says:

Apple is just mad that the palm pre is the best smartphone on the market