iTunes-Pre Media Sync Probably Unlicensed
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 nanocr.eu 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!