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Tag Archives | Palm Pre
New development in the ongoing saga of the Palm Pre’s Media Sync feature, which has let Pre owners sync directly with iTunes by tricking iTunes into thinking the Pre is an iPod: Palm’s attempt to get the USB Implementers’ Forum to intervene has failed. All Things Digital’s John Paczkowski is reporting that the USB-IF has told Palm that the Pre’s masquerade seems to violate the organization’s policy, which is that a manufacturer can only use the USB IDs it’s been assigned. (Palm has been using one assigned to Apple.)
This is not a startling development: I woulda put ten-to-one odds on it happening all along. The Pre has pretty much been using somebody else’s driver’s license to get into a bar–or, if you prefer, somebody else’s invitation to get into a party.
What’s Palm’s next move? I keep thinking that it’s got no options left but to surrender, but who knows? I do notice that the Palm site still touts Media Sync:
Here’s the footnote:
No matter how you slice it, this is misleading and out of date: We already know that iTunes 9 breaks Media Sync, so whether or not Palm “guarantees” compatibility is irrelevant. And iTunes 9 isn’t a future version, it’s the current one. I guess “Plus, use the Palm media sync feature to transfer your DRM-free iTunes music, video, and photos to your Pre…as long as you’re using an old cersion of iTunes” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I wanted Palm to win this fight, and I think everyone, including Apple, would win if iTunes had some level of built-in support for non-Apple devices. But it’s surely time for Palm to either eliminate references to media sync as a selling point or introduce a Media Sync 2.0 that uses a bit of middleware to do the syncing, a technique which works just fine. If I’d bought a Pre in part because Palm told me I’d be able to sync with iTunes, I know I’d vote for the latter option…
[UPDATE: PreCentral is reporting that an upcoming WebOS update will re-re-enable Media Sync, and that Palm wants the cat-and-mouse game to continue indefinitely. Doesn’t sound like much fun for anyone involved if it involves Media Sync breaking then working then breaking then working ad infinitum…)
When Steve Jobs was detailing the wonders of iTunes 9 at yesterday’s Apple music event, there was a One More Thing he didn’t mention: The new version of the software once again blocks Palm’s Pre from making like an iPod and syncing music and video directly with iTunes. This is the second time that an iTunes update has foiled the Pre. (Palm responded to the first attempt by using a workaround to regain access to iTunes.) And even if Palm has another kludge up its sleeve, it should bring this saga to an end.
I say that with regret, because I was rooting for Palm: iTunes sync is a nifty feature, and I wish that Apple looked at non-Apple phones syncing with iTunes not as an intrusion, but as an opportunity to sell more music. (If it did, it might actively court other phone manufacturers such as Palm.) But we now know that Apple won’t even take a laissez-faire approach here–it’ll boot the Pre out again and again.
Which means that it’s silly for Palm to promote the Pre’s Media Sync feature as it stands as a reason to buy the phone–even in a best-case scenario, the feature is doomed to an unhappy, tentative future.
The solution seems simple to me: Rather than hacking iTunes to provide direct syncing, Palm should use a bit of PC/OS X middleware to do the job. Lots of products do this without controversy, and Palm can probably license the technology if it needs to. In theory, it’s not as elegant a solution as direct syncing, but it works. And there’s absolutely nothing elegant about the cat-and-mouse game that Media Sync has been playing with Apple to date.
Well, this is weird and embarrassing: All Things Digital’s John Paczkowski, who reported earlier today on a $100 discount for new Sprint customers who bring their phone numbers from another carrier that brought the final price of the Palm Pre to $99, has posted a new story saying that Sprint has decided to pull the offer a few hours after it announced it. The deal was supposed to last through October 10th; instead, it turned into an Incredibly Limited Time Offer.
Sprint is saying that it’s yanking the promotion because it was “put into the system in error,” but there’s just gotta be more of a backstory here.
Paczkowski notes that the offer is still live on Sprint’s site–and yup, it’s still there as I write this.
The whole story points out a basic issue with the Pre: By introducing the iPhone 3GS at $199 (with a two-year contract) and knocking the original iPhone 3G down to $99, Apple succeeded in making the $199 Pre (which has 8GB of memory vs. the 3GS’s 16GB at that price point) look a tad pricey. I imagine it’s inevitable that Palm will need to release a 16GB Pre for $199, or work with Sprint to get the price of the 8GB down to $99. Or both.
I continue to find the Pre to be the most impressive iPhone rival that’s actually on the market–upcoming Android phones could change that–and to hope that it’s a hit, both because it deserves to be one and because Apple needs the competition. For what it’s worth, I’ve been surprised by the number of folks I’ve encountered lately who have bought Pres recently–and all of them have told me they’re pleased with their purchase. Of course, I live in a hotbed of phone geekery, so my random encounters with Pre owners may or may not be representative…
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Apple locking you out of iTunes? Call on the USB Implementers Forum. That’s Palm’s tact as it looks to muscle its way back into the smartphone space. Its complaint to the group which manages the standards for USB alleges that Apple is misusing those standards by permitting only its own devices to use the application.
It’s unknown what may come out of it as this is basically the first time a company has taken this route in attempting to break into the walled garden that is iPod/iTunes. That is essentially what the Pre’s Media Sync does–it tricks iTunes into thinking the Pre is an Apple device.
That strategy has its pitfalls too: it very well could be against the policies of the USB governing board, but Palm is saying its the only available route because of the way iTunes is set up.
Palm has a lot riding on the Pre: many industry watchers see the device as the last hope for the company which has slowly been fading since its heyday when Palm Pilots were the rage, and its acquisition of Handspring’s Treo helped catapult it into the smartphone industry.
The company will likely again build a workaround, continuing a cat and mouse game between the two companies. Apple has shown a willingness to play for as long as is needed, so Palm better have developers on call to continue to break into iTunes when needed.
It’s a smart move for Palm to at least try. With iPods so ubiquitous, and many using it to organize their digital media, as the saying goes “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
But in the end, we all know Jobs and Co. want Apple to stay at the center of the iTunes universe, and will do what is necessary to keep it that way. Palm better be ready to be in this for the long haul.
MarketWatch published a story today that could light a fire under Microsoft’s shareholders: it all but wrote an obituary for the company’s Zune portable media player. However, I do not think that the Zune is on the chopping block–yet.
Sales for the Zune dropped 42% over the last quarter to $211 million, according to Microsoft’s Q4 financial reports. In comparison, Apple iPod sales declined just 11%, for total sales of $1.5 billion, MarketWatch reports.
In terms of market share, the best-case scenario cited in the report was an IDC survey from last fall that found that the Zune holds 4.8% of the market. Recent numbers for the NPD group lower that estimate to a dismal 2%, compared to 70% for the iPod.
Microsoft is expected to ship the Zune HD, a touch screen interface device that offers high-def video output and radio, in the fall. Sales will likely continue to falter until then.
[UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Best Buy is saying this is an error. I still think we’ll see a $99 Pre before too long, though…]
PreCentral.net is reporting that Best Buy is living up to its name by offering Palm’s Pre smartphone for $99.99 with a two-year contract–no rebate paperwork required. That’s $100 less than the previous price, which you’ll still pay if you buy a Pre from Sprint (and which you’ll only get after you apply for and receive a $100 rebate). We don’t know whether Best Buy’s new price is permanent, or whether Sprint will match it soon, but it seems like a good bet that it’s the price that the Pre will ultimately end up at.
Only Palm and Sprint really know how well the Pre is selling, and whether it’s living up to their initial expectations. But I don’t think the 50% discount a few weeks after the Pre’s release is a sign of panic on anybody’s part. When Apple cut the price for the iPhone 3G to $99 two days after the Pre debuted in stores, it pretty much set $99 as the new starting price for a smartphone with specs comparable to those offered by the Pre, and there was nothing Palm could do about it. At $199, the Pre looked a tad pricey compared to an iPhone 3GS with twice the storage and video recording, even though it had more RAM and a keyboard. At $99.99, however, it costs…exactly what you’d expect.
You gotta think that part of Palm’s response to the iPhone 3GS will be a Pre that matches some of its features–especially the starting storage capacity of 16GB–and which can be sold for a similar price. Best Buy’s price cut might even be a sign that the new model will arrive soon. One way or another, I hope that the Pre sells well enough to be considered a major success: It’s an excellent and innovative phone, and even iPhone owners will benefit if Apple has plenty of healthy competition.
Last week, Apple blocked the technique that Palm was using to let the Pre sync seamlessly with Apple’s iTunes. I assumed that it was game over. Wrong! Palm released WebOS 1.1 today, and among its new features is the ability to sync with iTunes 8.2.1, the version of Apple’s media software that foiled the earlier version of Palm’s Media Sync feature.
There’s an interesting technical backstory here, though we don’t yet know what it is. Did Apple do an insufficient job of making it tough for the Pre to sync? Did Palm figure out an entirely different method for accomplishing a similar end result? If Apple blocks Palm’s new approach, will Palm strike back with workaround #3? Is it possible for Apple to make utterly sure that non-Apple devices can’t sync with its software? I’m assuming/hoping that folks who know more about this stuff than I do (such as Jon Lech Johansen) will soon tell us what’s going on.
I said in my earlier post that I had trouble summoning righteous indignation over Apple’s anti-Pre tactics. I still do. But if this is going to turn into a cat-and-mouse game, I’m rooting for the rodent–which is plucky Palm. Although I still think that the best all-around solution would be for Apple to open up iTunes so that owners of the Pre–and other devices–could easily give Apple money for music, too. Who wouldn’t be better off if such a scenario came to pass?