The Palm Pre’s ability to sync with Apple’s iTunes is no more. On Wednesday, July 15, Apple updated iTunes and put a stop to this capability.
According to the Associated Press, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said the iTunes update “disables devices falsely pretending to be iPods, including the Palm Pre.”
Additionally, the AP reports that Palm spokeswoman Leslie Letts said Apple’s move is a “direct blow to their users, who will be deprived of a seamless synchronization experience.”
In lieu of the seamless iTunes sync, Letts reportedly explained that Pre owners can 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 applications.
“Yes, they probably needed to update the software, but they didn’t have to block the Pre connection,” Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK. “If you asked them, they’d probably say, -Oh, we need to update this little module…'”
Kay says it’s exactly what Microsoft used to do to Apple all the time.
“Microsoft would secretly break the Apple experience in things like Office,” said Kay. “If you look at why Microsoft was successful, it was Office on Windows. But users were happy to have Office on a Mac, so one of the things Gates and company did in the ’90s was to crumple the Apple version of that experience. Opening an Excel spreadsheet would take a minute and a half on an Apple, and five seconds on a PC.”
News that the Palm webOS and Media Sync application was in harmony with iTunes emerged on May 28, as buzz for the Pre built and early testers of the Pre excitedly discovered the functionality.
In a press release the same day, Jon Rubinstein – a former Apple employee and now Palm CEO – stated, “We designed Palm Media Sync to be an easy and elegant way for you to take the content you own and put it on 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.”
“I think it’s easy to read a lot into it, because it’s convenient,” said Kay, acknowledging whispers that the move was as much personal as business. I’d say it’s maybe targeted to some degree, but it’s not a big deviation from Apple’s policy. By updating their software from time to time, they generally shake off the parasites.”
Kay said it’s important to note, too, that “Palm is not just Rubinstein – there are a lot of Apple people there. There’s a certain group that slid off… and have sort of re-banded around Palm. So in some sense, it’s kind of a -prodigal son’ type of thing. … Apple would respond to any company encroaching on [their IP], but there might be a little more emotion behind this one.”
Neil Mawston, a UK-based analyst with Strategy Analytics, says Apple has at least three reasons for disabling the Palm iTunes service.
“First, Apple likes to control the user-experience with Apple products and Apple services. Second, Apple has worked hard to build the iTunes brand and it wants to protect that. Third, Apple is very keen to lock consumers into Apple devices, Apple software and Apple services, and Apple does not want other competing brands attracting customers away from the Apple ecosystem.
Whether the Pre was emotion-tinged or not, Kay agrees that Apple is protecting its money maker.
“It’s not like iTunes is a big business for Apple, or that losing an iTunes customer makes a difference,” said Kay. “What matters is losing an iPod or iPhone customer. They’re preserving their main franchise, which is the hardware.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to include additional analyst perspectives.