Why syncing the Palm Pre with iTunes is a dangerous move for Palm

Fri, May 29, 2009

Analysis, News

Yesterday we reported that the Palm Pre will have the ability to sync with iTunes, and now we have a little bit more information as to how it all works.  In a recent blogpost, Jon Johansen, who might be better known as DVD John, described what Palm is most likely doing to trick iTunes into thinking that an attached Pre device is actually an iPod.

So how has Palm most likely enabled the Pre to sync directly with iTunes? By doing the following:

  • 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

That’s all well and good, but seeing that Apple can easily block the ability of the Pre to sync with iTunes with subsequent software updates, giving the Pre that ability in the first place seems terribly shortsighted.

In a Palm Press release, it writes that the Pre is “Compatible with iTunes 8.1.1 on Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X version 10.3.9-10.5.7.”  Note how the Pre is compatible with the Mac OS all the way back to Panther, but only works with 1 version of iTunes.  Interesting.

The success of the iPhone highlighted how important the user experience is, and this whole Pre/iTunes situation will ultimately hurt the user experience for Palm Pre users.

What happens when Palm Pre users accustomed to using iTunes to sync up content to their Pre suddenly discover that iTunes no longer recognizes their device?  Will Palm and Apple then get involved in a cat-and-mouse game where each side continuously issues software updates in attempts to stifle the actions of the other?  What a horrible situation for users to get stuck in the middle of, and it makes absolutely zero sense that Palm would subject its users to that.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Kennedy Says:

    Hilarious. Is this one of the brilliant moves McNamee had in mind?

  2. Peter Says:

    It’s not quite so easy.

    Apple could change iTunes. However, they’d also have to update bunches of iPods as well. The Pre identifies itself as a particular brand of iPod (say, for example, an iPod nano 2G). What’s going to happen to all those people with iPod nano 2Gs after this update?

    Changing the file system or USB commands would require that everyone update their iPod. How many iPods has Apple sold? Over a hundred million, right? Imagine over a hundred million people updating their iPods at the same time. I’m sure that will go off without a hitch.

    And, basically, all it means is by the time Apple gets everything updated, Palm will have fixed the problem and be working as well.

    If Apple is smart, they’ll ignore the whole thing.

  3. Tom Says:


    The final paragraph, unquoted in this blog post:

    “What can Apple do about this? When two parties implement an open standard, there’s usually some differences. In this case, there’s two implementations of a proprietary standard and it’s almost guaranteed that there will be differences. Apple will analyze the Pre and find out what those are. They will then be able to update iTunes to tell a real iPod apart from the “PrePod”.”

  4. Neil Anderson Says:


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