iTunes-Pre Media Sync Probably Unlicensed | webOS Nation

iTunes-Pre Media Sync Probably Unlicensed 32

by Derek Kessler Tue, 02 Jun 2009 10:43 am EDT

iTunes Sync" name="itunes-sync.jpg" class="imagewrapright" link="lightbox" /> When Palm last week unveiled the Pre’s newfound ability to sync with iTunes, it set the blogosphere ablaze, most notably the big Apple fanblogs were enraged with misplaced indignation (seriously guys, Apple can fight for themselves, they’re big boys). But it also touched off an interesting dialog: how did Palm do it? A close examination of the presentation at the All Things D (D7) conference revealed that to iTunes, the Pre appeared as an iPod, even displaying “Syncing iPod” in the little information window at the top of iTunes.

That raises the question, as Daring Fireball writer John Gruber asked, is this legit? It all boils down to how iTunes recognizes iPods. It’s a three step process, described by Jon Lech Johansen’s blog:

“The iPod has a specific USB Vendor Id that identifies it as being an Apple product and a USB Product Id that identifies it as being a specific iPod model. In addition, the iPod’s filesystem has a specific folder and file structure. Modern iPods also respond to a custom USB command that returns an XML file with information about the device.”

 Joahnsen speculates that when you select Media Sync on the Pre, the device switches from the USB vendor and product IDs of the Palm Pre to that of a specific iPod model, and that its mass storage partition is structured in such a way that iTunes looks at it and says, ‘Yes, this is an iPod.’ Lastly, when prompted by iTunes with the aforementioned customer USB command, the Pre spits out the XML file about the device, presumably with information that says ‘I am an iPod.’

Palm can’t be using the iTunes synchronization APIs that added compatibility to a number of non-Apple devices way back in the day. For one, Apple has likely stopped licensing that API now that the iPod has enjoyed tremendous success (none of those players are younger than five years), and for two that API only worked with iTunes for Mac; Palm claims that Media Sync will work with iTunes for Mac and PC.

So, where do we go from here? Palm’s description of Media Sync comes with a footnote:

“(2) Compatible with iTunes 8.1.1 on Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X version 10.3.9-10.5.7.”

Apple just yesterday released iTunes 8.2, which is purported to bring compatibility with the new iPhone OS 3.0. It seems unlikely that 8.2 will block the Pre from syncing just yet, but keep an eye out for 8.2.1.

For us the real question is this: Why does Palm seem to suddenly have so much chutzpah?  They fearlessly included multitouch gestures in the browser, Google Maps, and Photo gallery that other companies feared to include (hi T-Mobile G1, how are you?).  Now with the Palm Pre literally appearing as an iPod, it's almost as though Palm is taunting Apple. Apple doesn't like being taunted.

Like Gruber, we're increasingly getting the feeling that Palm is either trying to goad Apple into a legal showdown or they are so confident in their patent portfolio that they feel they can throw these features in Apple's face.  Honestly -- BlackBerrys have had a iTunes sync app that worked pretty well and because it is a separate app, it avoids all these questions.  Palm probably could have just as easily done that, but instead they went with direct iPod-imitating sync.  If Apple decides to lawyer up, Palm likely feels they can simultaneously cry "monopoly!" and they have the smartphone patents to possibly make Apple back down.  If they fail, well, if nothing else they'll be guaranteed gobs of free publicity.

Thanks to AdidasNYR and snoopd in our forums for the tips!


It does seem that they are dicing with death here. The functionality is something which will really increase the value of the Pre for me (when it is finally launched in GSM flavour over here in the UK). I would hate for it to be broken. They may well be other third party options but the beauty of the iTunes/iPod eco system is it's simplicity.

Dicing with death? I think it's actually really funny because it seems that Palms patent catalogue, which is proven that Apple has drawn from, is strong enough to allow them to do this and then there's the monopoly thing.

Go Palm! Apple you're great, really you've helped us get to where we are, but you really are arrogant.

Heh, who needs a trackball when you've got cojones?

I for one, think that what they're doing deserves more than a mere "those guys at Palm have balls". It's paving the road for others down the future to make of the market one where the customers end up receiving a benefit (yes, even apple-fan-boys, regardless of how much the like to kick and screen and feel special, warm and fuzzy).

In the mean time, I can not wait to see how the rest of this juicy story (cat fight!!!) evolves...

My solution, when I get my Pre, I won't update past the latest version of iTunes that I know will support media sync. There seriously aren't that many changes to each version, and since I clearly won't have an iPhone 3.0 I couldn't care less if my iTunes will support it. So if Apple tries anything, I'll just stick to my version of iTunes, sit back and laugh. 3 more full days until launch, so close.

I read some of those comments on the Apple blogs, the common theme seems to be, "what do you expect, those Palm guys came from Apple." What many seem to forget is, Palm lost folks to Apple as well, before the iPod.

Can you cite these events?

Can I cite, WHAT events?!?

Palm has lawyers just like everyone else. There's no doubt that they investigated the legality of this feature before implementing it. Ballsy as it appears, they will be safe.

As for Apple's position... they will potentially gain sales of media on iTunes, but potentially lose sales of mp3 players. So, if they're logical about it, Apple will wait and see whether this helps or hurts their bottom-line overall before deciding to modify their software to block the Pre. But given that the Pre "borrowed" some of Apple's big patents, Apple might be thinking less about logic and more about retribution.

On a positive note: iTunes support in the Palm Pre increases revenue from the Apple eco system. It will probably keep Pre owners buying music content from the iTunes Store, whereas they'd otherwise switch to the Amazon MP3 Store.

So if you look at it differently, you might even say that Amazon's the biggest loser here, not Apple.

Besides, I don't really see why emulation would be illegal. That's all what this is, right? The Pre emulates an iPod. No legal harm done. I'm not a lawyer, but this seems quite comparable to the way Mac OS X connects to a Windows server: there's no licensing there; Mac OS just emulates a Windows client.

The only thing that could happen is that Apple doesn't like Palm's iTunes support at all and will try to break the emulation in an upcoming iTunes release. But how? If Palm manages to perfectly emulate an iPod, there's no way for Apple to detect the difference between an iPod and a Pre.

I think Palm's confidence isn't misplaced at all.

Anyone remember when Apple was the little guy challenging the giant? Times sure have changed.

I don't give a hoot about this feature one way or another. Never been a fan of Apple and their dictatorial ways (Can we say BluRay movie playback on a Mac?) I know how to drag and drop media files using Windows file explorer or any file manager in Linux.

I can think for myself, thank you very much Apple.

I am actually disgusted by the fact that people would actually sync a palm pre to iTunes on a Windows PC. Sure iTunes is great if your on a mac, but apple purposely made it bloatware on the PC because they want people to have a bad experience and then they will get a new Mac instead of another PC. Ituneshelper, bonjour, ipodservice, mobiledeviceservice. Having to download a new 100Mb install file every 2 weeks!! Its retarded Library management that edits XML instead of song metadata.

Why would you use itunes to sync your music to your pre, when you can just drag everything to a music folder on it. That way next time you access the HD on your Pre, the music files wont be in an encrypted retarded file format that you cant read. The Pre already does good by searching itself for media, not looking for an xml file that lists its content.

I'm getting the Pre to make sure I dont need iTunes and never will.

I think that Palm chose to make this possible, just to get some of those in the middle apple fan boys to switch to the Pre, also make the pre more appealing and convenient for those heavy mac and itunes users.. Don't forgot that Rubenstein is from apple, so he knows how and what would get some of those fan boys to switch over.

I personally am more curious to know how it will work with WinAmp. Yes, I "still" use WinAmp... I personally find it to be much more intuitive than iTunes. Last time I tried iTunes, it wanted to load my entire collection on to my little 2G shuffle. It also wanted to move all of my mp3's in to its directory.

No thanks, WinAmp works just fine and doesn't want to take over my collection.

I have never, and will never, use iTunes. I completely disagree with the draconian rules Apple enforces on publishers and users. I also disagree with Steve Jobs' philosophy of selling closed systems (starting the with original MacIntosh) that cannot be upgraded without voiding the warranty. No way, no how.

I also still use WinAmp. I like the Internet Radio integration. Not bad for free.

Steve Jobs isn't on medical leave, he's secretly working for Palm with Rubinstein!!!

re: "I think Palm's confidence isn't misplaced at all."

I agree. I don't understand the indignation spewing from all the Appleheads. Reverse engineering is done all the time for the sake of compatibility. Take Samba for instance, they've reverse engineered the SMB/CIFS protocols. If Microsoft had something like iTunes, and Apple reverse engineered the syncing protocol to make it work with iPods, these Appleheads would cheering them on the whole way.

I find it absolutely hilarious that the Palm fanboys make their little (or big) digs at Apple, either in the articles or the comments, trashing iPhone, iTunes, etc. Then, you're all excited about how Pre syncs with iTunes, and get hot under the collar at the idea that Apple might shut down Pre's access to iTunes.

And, now there's a post saying that Palm is the poor little guy fighting big, bad Apple. Oh please.

Understand guys - the Pre is Rubenstein, stealing the iPhone, fixing all its issues, and making the same money and fame twice from two companies for the same technology, minus Jobs' ego. And Colligan sticks a "Palm" branding on it and struts around like he was responsible for it all. Yeah, right.

So iTunes and Apple suck, but you want/deserve access to iTunes. Make up your mind.

As Far as I know, no one here really is excited about using itunes. People seems to be more excited about how Palm pulled it off, more than anything.

and to quote you "the Pre is Rubenstein, stealing the iPhone, fixing all its issues,"... So what's wrong with getting a phone better than the iphone, per your quote? like apple is an angel that doesn't copy or steal from any other companies out there. give me a freakin break, cry baby.

There's nothing wrong at all. Competition is good for everyone as we all win. Palm's entry with the Pre will - for sure - kick Apple into improving things, maybe turning on multitasking. Everyone thinks the iPhone does not multitask; I can certainly read email and listen to iPod, surf the net while email or a calendar alert chimes in, etc. They just don't enable it for all apps. As we have seen with jailbreaking, it's just flipping a switch...

Palm being able to access iTunes is no big surprise, given that Rubenstein was the "father of the iPod" so he and the engineers he recruited from Apple certainly know how to set the device ID to look like an iPod or iPhone along with the basic protocols for communication.

Until the Palm Pre gets a whole lot more than 8 gigs of RAM, it won't be replacing my Ipod or even my Nano. I need that RAM for more important things than an extra copy of my Itunes library.

8 gigs of RAM? I don't even think Windows can recognize this much memory. I thought the Pre only had 256meg of ram?

Hehe ... no doubt he/she meant Flash memory (a.k.a. storage) rather than RAM. :-)

Your exactly the customer Sprint does not want to sell to, the Pre is not suppose to replace your iPod. The Pre is a multi capable device, the media functions of the Pre are a bonus.

Couldn't have said this better my self.

Will the sync include (and the Pre play) files with DRM protection?


Pinch to zoom and 2 fingers to rotate are not 'owned' by apple, if owned by anyone, its Perceptive Pixel and Jeff Han.

Apple patented 'refinements', like 2 fingers swiping down scrolls with left-to-right motion being ignored.

The G1 avoided it cuz it looks like their hardware is stone cold broken, and their API doesn't seem to even have a hook, which makes sense, not every android phone is expected to have a multi-touch screen.

I am certainly not a patent attorney, but I do not believe you can patent an idea (like multi-touch). You can patent an implementation of an idea. But what do I know?

The only reason to use Itunes on a window machine is to sync an Ipod or to play MP4 media files. The advantage of allowing a pre to sync like an IPod is that the user will not have to convert the files they have bought on ITunes. Also the setting up of playlist will be easier than dragging and dropping files into the pre.

If Apple does in fact book it they will be cutting out a huge market of media file customers. It is one of the things that hasn't made sense about I-Tunes. Sure you sell a product that is only available on a device you sell means you get all the money but you are cutting out a huge market. Honestly I hope they block it just to reduce their sells. They already have too much of the Media and music market already.


Dieter, Derek,

I am not able to send any PMs - I tried to send Derek one but it didn't go, hence this comment - and I am not able to start a new thread.

Is there something wrong with my account?