Apple threatens to throw iTunes 'kill switch' on Palm Pre sync

Palm says move would be 'direct blow' to iTunes customers

Apple made a thinly-veiled threat yesterday to owners of the Palm Pre, a new rival to the iPhone, that it can throw a "kill switch" at any time to deny them use of iTunes as their syncing software.

In a support document posted to its site Tuesday, Apple said it does "not provide support" for non-Apple hardware that tries to use iTunes for synchronizing content from a Mac or Windows PC.

"Apple is aware that some third-parties claim that their digital media players are able to sync with Apple software," the support document read. "However, Apple does not provide support for, or test for compatibility with, non-Apple digital media players and, because software changes over time, newer versions of Apple's iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with non-Apple digital media players."

The Pre, which launched June 6 in the U.S., synchronizes with the host PC or Mac via iTunes by tricking Apple's software into "seeing" the Palm smartphone as an iPhone or iPod. Before the Pre's U.S. debut, Palm defended the end-around as an "easy and elegant way" for users to access music, photos and video content on their personal computers.

Today, Palm's reaction was different -- and defensive.

"Media sync is designed in the spirit of openness and access that Apple has actively supported with their move to make the iTunes catalog [digital rights management] free," a Palm spokeswoman said. "All kinds of companies support all kinds of ways to let people move their own data onto devices in some way ... [but] if Apple chooses to disable media sync, it will be a direct blow to its own iTunes customers who will be deprived of a seamless and familiar synchronization experience."

Apple's move may be imminent, according to Palm, which went out of its way to tick off options that Pre users can turn to if their smartphones are barred from iTunes.

"People would have some options: They can always stay with the current version of iTunes and continue to sync their music," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "The Pre also ships with a second option for transferring music and other media content to the device. And there are third-party applications we could consider too."

If Apple does throw a kill switch, it wouldn't be the first time that it's "bricked" a device with a software update. Three months after it introduced the first-generation iPhone, Apple warned users who were "jailbreaking" their phones that they were violating the license agreement and voiding their warranty.

In that incident, Apple also issued a threat: "The permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing software is not covered under the iPhone's warranty."

Three days later, Apple shipped an iPhone update, Version 1.1.1, that disabled unlocked iPhones and wiped clean any evidence of unauthorized third-party applications.

Apple last updated iTunes on June 1, when it patched a critical security vulnerability and prepped the software for iPhone 3.0, which is slated to post for download later today.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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