By Harry McCracken | Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm
What is Palm up to? With its new WebOS 1.21 update, it’s once again re-enabled the Palm Pre’s ability to sync unprotected music and videos, photos, and now photo albums with iTunes, no extra software required. The move comes after the USB Implements Forum took Apple’s side in the tiff over Palm’s spoofing of iTunes into thinking that the Pre is an iPod. If I recall correctly, Apple has released two iTunes updates that blocked earlier versions of WebOS from syncing, and chances are presumably sky-high that it’ll block this one the next time that it pushes out a new version of iTunes.
I keep declaring this clash of wills between the two smartphone companies to be over, but I’m officially giving up on making any guesses. Whatever will happen will happen, and Palm, at least, isn’t behaving in the nice, predictable way that you expect of large companies. I dunno how the USB-IF will respond to Palm ignoring its stance that the Pre shouldn’t masquerade as an Apple product via USB connection, but it seems to be clear that Palm is willing to burn bridges behind it.
The company is unquestionably bursting at the seams with smart, talented folks; the Pre remains the iPhone’s most formidable competitor by far from the standpoint of user-interface sophistication. But I’m mystified by what it’s up to here. Palm continues to tout iTunes compatibility as a major feature of the phone. But the convenience that the feature offers when it’s working is completely negated by the periods when it’s in limbo, not to mention the general uncertainty of the whole idea. Whether you take Apple’s side or Palm’s or (like me) aren’t completely thrilled with either company’s behavior, it would be silly to think of the WebOS’s Media Sync feature as an argument in favor of buying a Pre.
Mac and iPhone developer Craig Hunter has a cogent post up on all this that beats up Palm pretty good. He wonders the same thing that I’ve been curious about for months: Why doesn’t Palm, like numerous other companies, write a standalone app to do the syncing? It would work well, and there’s no evidence that Apple would try to foil it. Just how many Pre owners would vote for continuing to play chicken with Apple when there’s a boring but effective alternative route to nearly the same end result?