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Apple vs. Palm: No iTunes for You, Pre!

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Sometimes I wonder why some companies put so much effort into making life harder for their own customers.

This time, I'm talking about Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . The latest update to its iTunes software contains "a number of important bug fixes and addresses an issue with verification of Apple devices." This sounds benign enough, until you realize what that verification issue entails.

If you own a Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) Pre and enjoy its ability to sync music with iTunes, this bug-fix update will break that feature. Workarounds include not installing the update, managing your Pre's music with one of the many other digital jukebox packages that are available, or simply copying files the old-fashioned way.

If I owned a Pre, this wouldn't be a big deal. My wife doesn't even use iTunes to manage her iPod Shuffle, because we prefer the Winamp media library over iTunes anyway. But to the diehard iTunes fans stuck up the creek without a paddle, I can only assure you that this is a temporary issue.

This kind of back-and-forth happens all the time. The proprietary provider of software or services -- Apple, in this case -- updates its product to break unauthorized compatibility. Then, some clever engineer figures out how to get around the new restrictions, and everything works again. Lather, rinse, and repeat until the proprietary provider gives up and stops trying.

Apple has given up before. The music purchased on iTunes used to come with a cumbersome layer of DRM protection, but the company did a 180 turn this year and now proudly boasts that "every song in the iTunes Store is an iTunes Plus song" without DRM protection. So you can still buy songs through the iTunes music store and then upload them to a Pre by other means -- it's just not going to be as smooth an experience as managing the whole process in one program.

I get that Apple wants to keep iTunes and iPhones/iPods tightly integrated and exclusive. It's how the company became the biggest, baddest seller of media players and music. But if your iTunes customers already own a Palm Pre, or Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Zune, or Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry, this exclusivity policy can only serve to tarnish Apple's reputation for simple elegance. These users may have an iPod too, or even an iPhone, and simply want to streamline the way they manage their musical needs.

Give it up, Apple. Keeping third-party devices out of iTunes for a little while longer can't be worth the resources you put into keeping them out.

Further furtive Foolishness:

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 3:57 PM, Ironbob wrote:

    Great article and good call. This comes off as nothing more than extreme immaturity, something Apple has been the king of for decades.

    The very thing that whined about in the 80s, they turn around and pull exactly the same thing. For me, it closes out any interest I had not only in Apple's stock but their products as well.

    I might even run out and buy a Pre although there's 0 chance I'd ever use it.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 4:15 PM, iraself wrote:

    Here is my take as an AAPL stockholder. iTunes was created at AAPL stockholder expense. The current Palm CEO has some knowledge of this fact. As an AAPL stockholder I do NOT want to make any AAPL resources available to AAPL competitors. Since competition is such a hallowed concept let Palm out-do AAPL and build a better palmTUNES.

    Of all the companies out there AAPL is in least need of unsolicited advice.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 4:22 PM, kkrimmer wrote:

    Why should others benefit from Apple's investment?

    Palm scrwd up by not even asking Apple first, then they prematurely released the Pre(mature) weeks before a SDK was released... they should have waited until they had some apps.



    For those iPhone users complaining about (even suing) Apple chained to AT&T... Pre is chained to Sprint... (almost) any phone contract you get will either be the "discounted" 2-yr plan or an expensive month-to-month.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 5:14 PM, marv08 wrote:

    This article is wrong on most accounts.

    - Palm has been advertising a feature without even talking to the owner of the software involved. They have been fooling their own customers.

    - Palm used a hack to achieve that (they send out a fake device ID over USB, pretending to be an iPod). Basing a main feature of your "do or die" device on a hack is beyond stupid. They got caught and they deserve it. Their "bad Apple locks out our valued customers" stance is sheer bigotry, they could have talked to Apple before misleading their customers. In some legislations the misuse of the "iPod" trademark (even if it is only in a device ID string) could be highly critical if Apple takes offense.

    - Apple did not make a "180 degree turn" regarding DRM. They have been offering DRM-free tracks from EMI for a long time, actually before anybody else did. All the other labels refused to give Apple DRM-free tracks, because they wanted to blackmail them into variable pricing. But you do not care about facts, don't you?

    - There is more to the story than "keeping iTunes and iPhones/iPods tightly integrated and exclusive". Much more. You do not want to offer free support from the customers of others, as this costs money. You do not want to add third party devices to your software testing and QA routines, as this costs money and slows down progress. You do not want to end up with millions of third party devices depending on your free software, happily awaiting the day when they will sue you to enforce FairPlay licensing.

    - Every serious phone maker provides own software for syncing. There are also several third party applications that sync with iTunes. Palm could have send little money to India and have an application made (remember that all iTunes data is present in a standardized and unencrypted XML file, a 12-year old could write a program to parse that info in a few hours) or make a bundling deal with existing programs from third parties. They, not Apple, decided to use a hack instead.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2009, at 9:58 PM, streetflame wrote:

    In regards to the first sentence of the article: How are people who have not paid Apple any money, Apple customers?

    I think you misunderstand the nature of ITunes. It is a useful marketing tool for other Apple products, not a product with a seller-customer relationship attached.

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