USB-IF to Palm: "Oh really? You've got some explaining to do."

Michael Jones
M. Jones|09.23.09

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Michael Jones
September 23rd, 2009
In this article: itunes, palm pre, PalmPre, spoof, sync, USB-IF
USB-IF to Palm: "Oh really? You've got some explaining to do."
Didn't you hate it when you were a kid, and you would complain to an adult about something one of your siblings was doing, just to end up getting yourself in more trouble than they ended up in?

Well, you might say that's exactly what is happening to Palm and the ongoing dispute with Apple over the Pre's ability to sync with iTunes. The company has landed itself in some hot water after drawing the attention of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) by filing a complaint against Apple for violating "the letter and spirit of the USB-IF Membership Agreement," which is "intended to facilitate interoperability between USB devices."

What that's referring to, of course, are Apple's repeated attempts to block the Palm Pre from syncing with iTunes. The whole question of whether or not Apple is in the wrong by doing so is entirely debatable, but the USB-IF seems to be of the opinion that Apple is following the letter of the law:
"In the view of the USB-IF, Palm's allegation (if true) does not establish that Apple is using its Vendor ID (VID) contrary to the USB-IF's policies... Therefore, under present USB-IF policies, the USB-IF does not consider the alleged use, without more, to be 'improper.'"
To summarize, the USB-IF does not believe that Apple is in violation of the agreement, based on the information provided in Palm's complaint. What is interesting with this chain of events is how Palm continues to shoot itself in the foot trying to find a resolution. Rather than work out a deal with Apple or write a custom application to legitimately communicate with iTunes, Palm has chosen the sly path of attempting to trick iTunes into working with the Pre, first by simply identifying the device as an iPod that was made by Palm, to actually using Apple's assigned USB vendor identifiers to completely masquerade as a true Apple iPod.

Perhaps even more startling, however, is that Palm is completely open about the whole process, even going as far as detailing the workaround in the complaint to the USB-IF, saying "Palm will shortly issue an update of its WebOS operating system that uses Apple's Vendor ID number for the sole purpose of restoring the Palm media sync functionality." Although openness is usually a good thing, it seems that Palm may have encountered too much of a good thing: the USB-IF turned the tables, and hinted that Palm itself may be in violation of its own agreement (emphasis added):
I attach for your information the USB-IF's adopted and published policy regarding Vendor Identification Numbers (VIDs). Under the Policy, Palm may only use the single Vendor ID issued to Palm for Palm's usage. Usage of any other company's Vendor ID is specifically precluded. Palm's expressed intent to use Apple's VID appears to violate the attached policy.

Please clarify Palm's intent and respond to this potential violation within seven days.

What's next for Palm? Will the company finally decide to work something out with Apple? Will Palm start embedding USB chips out of refurbished iPhones so that it isn't technically misreporting the device's identity? Only time will tell, and in the meantime, at least we can look back and say "Palm, we told you so."
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