Palm’s Quixotic Quest Continues

By  |  Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Palm Jousts

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?


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. airwhale Says:

    Well, yes – it’s kinda entertaining to watch the back-and-forth, but really, I would at this point expect my new devices to be able to sync with my iTunes library. I’ve given Apple a LOT of money in building up my digital collection – then a whole lot again for the “service” of them removing the pesky DRM.

    The iTunes store is a great place to shop IF you have an iPod/iPhone, that is. Great selection and decent pricing, at least for the old stuff I tend to buy. I carry a Nokia smart phone with ample space but still no music at all on it, because of the hassle to sync. I refuse to catalog my music with the Nokia crapware, so instead I carry multiple devices.

    Of course, the play seems effective from Apple’s side as I am much more inclined to get an iPhone over the Palm Pre for my next refresh, in part due to the iTunes integration.

  2. Daniel Says:

    I believe that Palm is being the real bully here.  They in effect are wrecklessly going into another vendor product against all good reason and giving them the big F-you. Palm has a record of not working for the Mac users.  Where was this support when the palm treo users on the Mac side. It was Apple that had to create the necessary syncing software for Palm on he Mac platform. 

    Palm is also disengenous when they “champion the users” for more open standards when there own SDK says otherwise.  I believe it up to blogs like yours Harry to really come down against the tatics that Palm is exercising.  Also if they were interested in working with iTunes, were are the letters requesting to work or license the use of iTunes with Apple?  All I hear from Palm is talk but little action in support of their arguments.  What about the known XML created by Apple’s iTunes to address exactly what Palm needs to snyc users music, why aren’t they using this and why is the media not hounding them to use this? 

    At the end I am left with a bitter taste of the guerella tatics of a desperate company Palm has become. I guess it’s ironic that the company that laughed off Apple introduction into the smart phone market will be the company that finally sends them out of that very market. 

  3. l.m.orchard Says:

    I think the thing here is that Palm wants webOS devices to never need any desktop software.

    You get a Palm Pre, and it doesn’t come with a CD or DVD. It just works “in the cloud”. Apps are installed that way, updates come that way, backups work that way, etc.

    Of course, it’s kind of cheating to piggyback off iTunes, but they can still say that webOS devices don’t need to ship with desktop software.

    Not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I suspect that’s what’s behind all of this

  4. P Watanabe Says:

    As a potential customer, this base dishonesty, would imply that if would violate customers if there is financial advantage.

  5. Don Says:

    As I wrote on my own little blog, I think that the old saying, “I don’t care what you write about me is true or not, just make sure my name is spelled correctly” goes here as well.

    I think that Palm is playing a media game here and is betting that their bullying tactics will get them a lot of play time in the press, and, hopefully, people will look into buying a Pre. It’s mostly about marketing, creating a buzz, and an image that Palm will do what it takes to get the job done, even if it means frustrating and inconveniencing their users!

    Will it work, I doubt it!

  6. mbaDad Says:

    Palm is clearly in the wrong in being too cheap to write their own software. Apple gave them an easy, open, and documented way to do this, and they prefer to bully Apple instead. iTunes is so over extended that it would not be difficult to write a better piece of software.

    Not the behavior one would expect from a legitimate company, and certainly has turned me off from purchasing the Pre. As a verizon customer I was hoping to pick one up in the future if and when they became available. I have instead started wondering when Palm will enter chapter 11.

  7. Larry V Says:

    I wonder when Palm is going to realize that, regardless of whether or not Apple is being fair, this game is an utter waste of their engineering talent.

  8. Heulenwolf Says:

    Sync is hard to get right and mistakes are costly. When my Palm Tungsten T-series with Chapura pocket mirror mistakenly duplicated most of my contacts and appointments in Outlook, I stopped using it and haven’t bought or recommended Palm since. I can see the attraction to using a proven software interface with a company behind it that regularly updates it instead of writing your own. As expensive as it is to keep the iTunes interface going, that’s still far simpler and cheaper than writing you own and keeping it up to date for two platforms.

    One of the things I liked best about the webOS approach to contacts and calendar is that it didn’t depend on a desktop app. The phone does the work in conjuction with the many online services it integrates with. A pc is unnecessary. If Palm is looking for a way to sync media, I’d suggest finding a similar route. Use online music services or, if they must write software, write an iTunes server-based app and allow wireless syncing.

  9. SyncUp Says:

    Well I think it’s rather funny when large corporations play little games with other large corporations for the (intent of) benefiting of the customer and of course their product.

    In this case, Palm is doing its best to provide what many customers want…and as long as what they are doing isn’t illegal (evidently not), then I see no problem with the two companies playing the back-and-forth game.

    The only potentially bad thing is the customer who is along for the ride!
    Or maybe if you really want to use your phone for lots of music (from itunes), then buy an iphone or use a different service that doesn’t lock you in.

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