Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay said Palm's decision to update the Pre smartphone's OS to reconnect to Apple's iTunes music player could prompt a legal escalation and hurt the end user.
What appears destined to become a digital cat-and-mouse game between Palm's
touch-screen Pre smartphone and Apple's iTunes digital media player took
another turn this week when Palm updated
the operating system for
the Pre. Palm webOS 1.1, which the company hopes will make the Palm Pre
smartphone more appealing to businesses, is also an excuse for the company to
reconnect Pre users to Version 8.2.1 of Apple's iTunes application.
On July 15, Apple updated iTunes, and the newest version prevented the Palm
Pre from syncing with Apple's proprietary music app. At the time, Palm
spokeswoman Leslie Letts called Apple's move a "direct blow to their users, who
will be deprived of a seamless synchronization experience." Letts also
recommended in lieu of the seamless iTunes sync, Pre owners could use an older
version of iTunes, use a USB cable to
transfer music from a computer to the Pre and look to other third-party music
In May, early tests of the Palm Pre made it known that Palm's upcoming Pre
WebOS will include an application called Palm Media Sync, which will
synchronize with iTunes and allow users to transfer DRM-free music, photos and
video onto the Pre. Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman of Palm and a former
Apple employee, said at the time the application was designed "to be an easy
and elegant way" for users to take content and put it on the Pre.
Months before, during a Jan. 21 earnings call, Apple COO
Tim Cook, declining to name Palm specifically, said, "We will not stand for
having our IP ripped off, and we'll use whatever weapons that we have at our
disposal." Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, said the speed with
which Palm was able to reconnect itself to Apple is noteworthy, though he
points out Palm employs a number of former Apple people.
"One of the differences with Palm is [because] it's populated with so many
former Apple people, they may know the architecture better," he said. "There
may be all sorts of relationships there. They may have emotions about being cut
out of the action at Apple. It's not really sound business to approach it that
way, but this business allows emotions to get swayed."
Kay said that fight for control is an ongoing battle between Apple and the
rest of its ecosystem, which is ultimately not to the benefit of end users.
"The competitor has to do another twist to meet [Apple's block], and Apple
twists after that-after awhile the software isn't operating very well, for
business reasons, essentially," he said. "It may simply be about the iPod world
is so attractive, that to be a viable handset Pre has to have access to that
world. And I think that's correct."
With iTunes, Apple has created a nexus of power that's extremely difficult
to dislodge, Kay points out. "Basically Apple's in the business of selling
high-margin hardware-it's a great business," he said. "What I would say is they
escalate slowly-maybe they send a cease and desist letter."
Kay said if Apple moves too fast and opens with a lawsuit and doesn't win,
it would create a precedent for opening its platforms. "That would be the worst
thing that could happen," he said. "I would guess that like any good lawyer,
their attorney will tell them to escalate a bit at a time and gradually raise
the stakes. They're not going to give up easily, but would they go another
round of cat-and-mouse? Probably not."