Apple Nixes Palm Pre’s Tunes Sync, Again

Apple, Palm Pre and iTunes

For Apple, it appears breaking up with the Palm Pre is easy to do.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) yesterday released iTunes 9, which includes a new store interface and other enhancements — along with a renewed effort to block syncing with the Palm Pre, according to Pre community blogs and forums.

The update marks the second time Apple has moved to shut out the Pre from synchronizing with its media software, which it does by presenting itself an iPod.

According to reports, Apple had objected to the method by which the Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre linked directly to iTunes — by masquerading as an iPod — rather than through third-party software, which is the route other phone vendors have taken.

That media syncing feature had been a widely touted feature of the Pre when it went on sale in June and kicked off Palm’s comeback bid.

Two months after the Pre debuted, Apple responded by introducing by bumping iTunes to version 8.2.1, which blocked syncing with the Palm handset. A cat-and-mouse game ensued: A week later, Palm re-enabled iTunes syncing with the release of webOS 1.1, the software at the heart of the Pre.

Apple’s move to strike back comes as the industry is closely watching developments with Palm’s Pre — its flagship model — and the phone’s webOS software.

Palm was widely expected to issue webOS 1.2 this week, but it’s now unclear when the update might ship. Reports indicated that Sprint, the exclusive carrier for the Pre, earlier this week published release notes for the update pointing to a Sept. 8 release — but has since pulled the data from its site.

Now, the wait for webOS 1.2 is prompting speculation that Palm is either adding some more bug fixes — or holding off the release to address the move by Apple.

Spokespeople for Apple and Sprint had not returned calls seeking comment by press time.

Meanwhile, Palm in early August also filed a complaint with the USB standards board over the issue, seeking a third-party to help resolve the matter with some type of formal ruling.

In Palm’s complaint to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the industry group that oversees the ubiquitous Universal Signal Bus technology, Palm said Apple is unfairly thwarting trade and abusing the USB standard .

“Over the years, those that have implemented the USB standard have clearly benefited from the interoperability and competition among devices fostered by the standard … however, benefits such as these will be short-lived if member companies turn to using USB protocols for other than their intended purpose,” Kevin Morishige, senior director for Palm’s product technologies, wrote in the company’s complaint to the USB-IF. “Unfortunately, Apple has done just that.”

“This exclusionary use is not contemplated by the USB standard, which is clearly intended to facilitate interoperability between USB devices, not to regulate the content that flows between them,” he wrote. “Moreover, it is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the USB-IF Membership Agreement, including the Antitrust Guidelines.”

By press time, a USB-IF spokesman had not returned a call seeking comment.

In addition to the Pre, Palm this week unveiled its second webOS device, the Pixi. The Pre’s smaller sibling is set to go on sale later this year, Palm said, and it’s also slated to support iTunes media syncing.

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