Apple and Palm elbow each other over iTunes access by Palm's Pre

Is Apple or Palm misusing the USB standard?

Jenna Wortham of the New York Times has an interesting story on the stakes, and self-justifications, involved in the Apple-Palm squabble over the Palm Pre's access to iTunes.

Palm has raised the stakes, charging that Apple's decision to block access is anti-consumer and a restraint of trade.

With the Pre's launch in June, Palm touted as a feature the smartphone's ability to access the iTunes storehouse of music and other content. It did so with some code that fooled iTunes into thinking the Pre is an iPhone.

But Apple has jealously restricted such access to just the iPhone. It retaliated by making a change to its code to block the Pre. Palm in turn made another change to again imitate an Apple music player, and then took another step: it filed a complaint with the USB Implementers Forum, which oversees the USB interface connection standard, arguing that Apple is misusing a standard that was designed to increase interoperability to do just the opposite -- to limit connectivity only to Apple devices.

Wortham's story notes that some observers think Palm is itself violating the intent of the USB standard, with its code-based deception. She has what I think is a revealing quote by a Palm lawyer: “We think we are consistent with our compliance,” said Douglas B. Luftman, an associate general counsel for Palm. “We’re not trying to appear to be anything we’re not — except for interoperability purposes with iTunes.”

Of course, the only way to be interoperable with iTunes is to...appear to be something you're not.

I don't think Apple is going to let this one go, because to do so is to surrender the essence of how the company approaches computing: it creates a unique universe, centered on the individual user who benefits from highly integrated access to a range of Apple online services.

From the debut of Palm's webOS, my conviction has been that Palm (and Google) want to create a similar highly integrated access to Web-based services and applications. My impression is that Google more narrowly wants to replace the Apple online infrastructure with a Google online infrastructure. The webOS has the opportunity to blend together the Palm Pre and the Web overall in a way that's just starting to be realized.

So...does Apple have the right to block any non-iPhone device from iTunes? Or is Palm the industry's white knight leading consumers in a charge against the dark empire of Cuptertino?

 

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