USB Forum comes down hard on Palm for spoofing Apple’s USB vendor ID re: iTunes syncing

Wed, Sep 23, 2009


The cat and mouse game over the Palm Pre’s ability to sync with iTunes may soon be coming to an end.

Just a few weeks ago, Apple released an iTunes update which prevented the Pre from syncing up with iTunes.  Shortly thereafter, Palm answered with an update of its own with the release of webOS 1.1, an update which re-enabled the Pre to sync up with and transfer media files from iTunes.

In terms of how this all works, the Pre, when first released, identified itself as a “mass storage device” called an iPod.  After Apple took measures to block that, Palm issued a software update which then caused the Pre to masquerade as a device with an Apple USB Vendor ID.

Sound shady? You betcha.

But Palm certainly has cojones, because after their most recent WebOS update, they filed a complaint with the USB Implementors Forum, alleging that Apple was in violation of USB guidelines for discriminating against certain USB Vendor ID’s.

The obvious irony is that spoofing a USB Vendor ID, as Palm has done by spoofing Apple’s, is in clear violation of the initial contract companies must adhere to in order to receive a unique USB Vendor ID in the first place.  The pertinent portion of the contract states that “Unauthorized use of assigned or unassigned USB Vendor ID Numbers and associated Product ID Numbers are strictly prohibited.

So yeah, Palm is definitely skating on some thin ice with some out of date skates, and they might have just fallen through the ice to boot.

Yesterday, the USB Implementors Forum responded to the brewing issue between Palm and Apple and basically dealt Palm a death blow.

Palm, in its initial letter to the USB Implementors Forum, wrote that Apple’s actions prevent iTunes from working with non-Apple USB devices, and that that violates “the letter and spirit of the USB-IF Membership Agreement” which is “intended to facilitate interoperability between USB devices, not to regulate the content that flows between them.”

The USB Implementors Forum, though, weren’t swayed by Palm’s point of view, and issued a letter to them stating, “In the view of the USB-IF, Palm’s allegation (if true) does not establish that Apple is using its Vendor ID (VID) contrary to the USB-IF’s policies.  Therefore, under present USB-IF policies, the USB-IF does not consider the alleged use, without more, to be ‘improper'”

The forum also took umbrage with Palm’s stated intention to keep on fiddling with the Pre to ensure that it will continue to sync with iTunes in the future.

… Your letter also states that:

“Palm will shortly issue an update of its WebOS operating system that uses Apple’s Vendor ID number for the sole purpose of restoring the Palm media sync functionality.”

I attach for your information the USB-IF’s adopted and published policy regarding Vendor Identification Numbers (VIDs). Under the Policy, Palm may only use the single Vendor ID issued to Palm for Palm’s usage. Usage of any other company’s Vendor ID is specifically precluded. Palm’s expressed intent to use Apple’s VID appears to violate the attached policy.

Please clarify Palm’s intent and respond to this potential violation within seven days.

Palm, in response, issued the following statement:

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.

As it stands now, the recent release of iTunes 9 has blocked the ability of the Pre, yet again!, from attaching itself to iTunes, and it will be interesting to see if Palm truly follows up on its word and issues a software update to re-enable syncing sometime soon.

Our take is that Palm is arguing a moral case in a forum where such arguments carry no weight.  The USB Forum is concerned with parties adhering to the rules they’re contracted to follow, not with flighty arguments about whether or not Apple needs to make its hardware compatible with all types of third party devices.

It’s about time Palm give up this fight as its only a losing battle.  If the recent letter from the USB forum doesn’t make it obvious that the jig is up, then we don’t know what will.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Constable Odo Says:

    As an Apple investor and user, I don’t think that Apple should make an active effort to block the Pre unless they need to protect some legal rights. If Apple allows companies to license hooks into iTunes then Palm should pay for those rights. But this is not just for Palm, it would be for any company that has a device that is trying to hook into iTunes. I believe a company of Palm’s size would be able to pay for licensing rights. It seems only fair to Pre owners.

    I feel the best way for Palm to go is to build their own software. Why is designing one’s own software for one’s product such a big deal? That’s how it should be. Of course, Palm would have to take back the advertising of it’s ability to hook into iTunes.

    I’m satisfied that the USB Forum has sided with Apple only for the reason that it will shut up the whiners that believe Apple is just trying to break Palm’s chops for no good reason. Palm is foolish for trying to keep dancing to Apple’s iTunes updates. It’s far too annoying for Palm Pre users as to whether their iTunes connectivity will work from day to day. I think this is just laziness on Palm’s part. Just like they were lazy in updating Palm OS over the years.

    I guess Palm will believe that Apple bribed the USB Forom to come to this decision.

  2. Joe Anonymous Says:

    “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. ”

    Fine. My view is that I should have the freedom of choice to use my media on a free Palm Pre. Please send me one. Oh, and my daughter has the same rights. She needs one, too. (Not that I’d want a Pre, but I could sell it on eBay).

    The people at Palm are idiots. Period.

    As for Mr. Odo, you’re missing the entire point. iTunes is one of Apple’s major competitive advantages. You don’t just open up your key advantages to let your competitors use the – whether they pay or not. Apple would be cutting itself off at the knees to allow this.

  3. Another Anonymous Says:

    Palm is exactly right, as far as its argument goes. It should be the right of users to use non-DRM media on any device they own that is capable of playing it. I have no problem with that – nor does Apple, nor anyone else, as far as I can tell. Apple’s objection is that Palm can’t use Apple’s proprietary software in order to allow users to manage their media. If Palm wants users to be able to manage media, then Palm can simply identify the Pre as a USB mass storage device and let people forage through their iTunes Library to copy files over for themselves. If that’s not an elegant solution, well, then Palm can provide software to make the job easier / more elegant.

    Apple isn’t doing ANYTHING unreasonable. Palm is trying to claim that they should be allowed to use Apple’s substantial investment in iTunes for Palm’s benefit. It’s like claiming that you should be allowed to plagarize a book that someone else wrote because “lots of people like it” and you want to give those readers a positive literary experience.

  4. denisezej Says:

    I have a joke for you =) What is a Mummy’s favorite kind of music? RAGtime music! or wRAP!!!
    –/ cials Phoenix /–

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