Palm’s Chairman, speaking at the D7 conference yesterday, confirmed that the Palm Pre has a neat trick: It syncs with iTunes just like an iPod would. While that’s handy, Apple isn’t likely to tolerate the situation for too long.
During his presentation, Jon Rubinstein even showed a live demo of the Pre connecting with iTunes, and noted that it would work with both Windows and Mac versions of the software. It can sync all but copyright protected FairPlay tracks with DRM, and when connected to a Mac it can even grab photos from iPhoto. All in all, it sounds like a fabulous boon for would-be Pre buyers, and, since Palm doesn’t have a massive iTunes-sized ecosystem of its own to support the Pre, then muscling in on the tech behind the most successful one out there makes sense.
But, unlike sharks who tolerate remora fish hitching a ride on their bodies and refrain from eating them, Apple isn’t likely to let Palm get such a free ride. Why would it? There’s nothing to gain from the relationship for Apple, and it threatens core elements of Apple’s business. And, according to Mac media-syncing expert Jon Johansen, there may be a simple way for Apple to shake off the free-riding Palm fairly quickly.
Johansen’s company makes an alternative media-syncing package for Macs and PCs, so he’s familiar with the technology–he thinks the Pre must be masquerading in hardware as an iPod. To do so it’s most likely co-opted the USB Vendor and Product IDs of an iPod, and it probably also exchanges coded USB handshakes with the software which convinces iTunes that it’s actually an iPod rather than a generic device. Johansen thinks that this complex situation has enough latitude that Apple could easily disable Pre syncing with some clever coding at the next iTunes refresh.
Of course, since we’re talking about the U.S., there’s always the possibility of Apple disabling the Pre through legal means. We’ll just have to wait and see.