Debate over Apple's threat to disable iTunes sync with Palm Pre heats up

Some Pre owners understand Apple's point, but overzealous protection of iTunes could backfire for the company

A debate is heating up over Apple Inc.'s apparent threat to kill the iTunes sync feature on the new Palm Pre and other non-Apple digital media players.

Some Palm Pre owners said today they are disappointed by Apple's move but could also see how Apple wants to protect its iPhone and iPod technology.

[ Earlier today, Palm called Apple's bluff on iTunes syncing. | Stay ahead of advances in mobile technology with InfoWorld's Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

"It's unfortunate what Apple's doing," said Richard Rosmarin, who bought his Pre on June 6, the first day the devices went on sale.

Rosmarin said he couldn't understand why Apple would allow iTunes to sync with a PC or to burn a CD, but would not allow iTunes to sync with a handheld device, such as the Pre, that's not made by Apple.

"I guess it's not a total surprise, given Apple's propensity to keep their world more closed than other vendors," he said.

Palm suggested today that if the iTunes sync with the Pre is stopped in a future version of iTunes, Pre users should simply stick with the current version of iTunes, use a direct cable connection to a desktop containing their music, or find another application to do the sync.

For several Pre owners, the iTunes sync was a nice feature, but wasn't the reason they bought the Pre.

If the sync is prevented, "it's not a life-changing event for me," said Anne-Marie Kenney, a Palm Pre owner who bought the device on the first day of sale and quickly synced hundreds of her iTunes songs to the device just in case the capability was stopped.

"It will be interesting to see when and if it happens, because I will still need to update my Pre with new songs," she said. Kenney said she would remain on the current iTunes version to update her Pre with new songs. She said staying with an older version of iTunes is not a big concern because most iTunes updates are not major.

Jeremy Hill, another Pre owner, also said he would stay with the current iTunes version to update his Pre's songs as well as his iPod Nano. "Unless I update, how will [Apple] remove the functionality?" Hill asked. "And as a registered Apple product owner [of the Nano], I can't really see [Apple] forcing me to update when what I have currently works."

Apple's sync comment on its support Web site has several Pre enthusiasts concerned about what other controls Apple might try to deploy for all kinds of competing devices.

"I guess I can rationalize what Apple is doing and why it makes a difference to them, because the Pre is using something they've created," Kenney added.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, took a harder stance against closed technologies in general. "I would have to take Palm's side on this [sync issue]," Dulaney said. Many closed systems don't work out for vendors and eventually fold, he said.

Still, Dulaney acknowledged Apple's situation. "Apple has built an environment and deserves to take it where they will. They are looking at the experience they provide their customers and don't want that to be compromised by third parties."

Kris Keilhack, associate editor for the Palm Infocenter Web site, has used Palm devices for years and was surprised when he heard weeks ago that iTunes would sync with the Pre, especially because Apple could be counted on to fight back. "I didn't want to get my hopes up because I would be disappointed" if the sync was threatened, he said.

"The possible loss or disruption of iTunes sync won't mean much to me, but the real question is whether this is the tip of the iceberg," he added, explaining that Apple could be squaring off with Palm on a number of technology areas where it doesn't want to compete.

This story, "Debate over Apple's threat to disable iTunes sync with Palm Pre heats up" was originally published by Computerworld.

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