Palm Pre Syncs with Apple iTunes

As early testers of the Palm Pre smartphone may have discovered, the Pre mobile device reportedly syncs seamlessly with Apple's iTunes software. As the legality of this is debated, some say with or without iTunes the Pre presents no danger to the iPhone.

The MP3 player on the much-anticipated Palm Pre will seamlessly sync with Apple's iTunes software, save for copyright-protected files, Palm confirmed on May 28.

The Palm Pre, scheduled to debut on June 6, holds the hopes of the struggling Palm, which has been working to position the Pre as the first serious competitor to the Apple iPhone.

Palm confirmed that its 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 Palm Pre. Connecting a USB cable from a PC or Mac to the Pre and then selecting "media sync" on the device will launch iTunes on the desktop, from which the user can select files to transfer.

"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," Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman of Palm, said in a statement published on the official Palm investor relations Website.

A USB connection between a Pre and a computer will also allow the mobile device to function as a hard drive: Users will be able to drag-and-drop content from the desktop onto the Pre, and vice versa. The Pre will import photos onto the desktop that were originally taken using the smartphone's camera.
Whether or not Apple believes it has anything to fear from the Pre-which features a multitouch interface, like the iPhone, as well as a slide-out QWERTY keyboard-the maker of iTunes is not likely to appreciate a possible competitor offering a taste of its own bread and butter, legal issues aside.
"I think Apple will fight it, if there's a legal means of fighting it," Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK. "Plus, Apple routinely upgrades iTunes all the time-if you use iTunes you're constantly being asked if you want to upgrade. Apple can do anything it wants [to stop the Pre from being compatible]."
Much has been made of the fact that designers of the Palm Pre are former Apple employees. Given this, Gottheil said, "I assume that, one, they knew exactly how Apple iTunes identifies the iPod it's connected to and, two, that they expected Apple to protest [them sharing that with the Pre]."
Part of the reason for the creation of iTunes was that in order for Apple to get the permission of music publishers to sell songs on its site, it had to figure out a way to prevent the songs from being endlessly copied. "Apple doesn't want to let competitors leverage its investment in iTunes software and the online iTunes store," explained Gottheil.
Regardless, Gottheil said, he believes the Pre poses no "terrible danger" to Apple.
"There's an entire ecology that Apple has used to gain an enormous lead in the market. The Pre will have to come up with a number of applications [to make its brand distinct]," Gottheil said. "There's a chicken/egg thing going on here. ... It's a tall hill to climb, and just being a little bit better, presuming the Pre is, is not going to be enough to get people to choose something without the wide support system the iPhone has."
The Fortune blog further reported that when asked about the Pre during a January earnings call, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook "said Apple would use whatever weapons it has at its disposal to fight companies that rip off its intellectual property."

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information confirmed by Palm. Additional reporting by Nicholas Kolakowski.