Palm Pre USB hack confirmed

A little birdie provided me with the following:
Palm Pre Video

As I speculated in my previous blog post on Palm Pre Sync and now confirmed by the image above, when the Pre is in “Media Sync” mode it identifies itself as an Apple iPod. However, it’s only the Mass Storage interface that identifies itself as an iPod. The root USB node (IOUSBDevice) still identifies the device as a Palm Pre (not visible in the image above). This means that Apple can very easily update iTunes to block the Pre.

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Update: that the Pre still works with the new iTunes 8.2 release is not surprising and doesn’t mean much. The news about the Pre’s iTunes support came out on Friday. iTunes 8.2 was released on Monday. Software has release cycles that include QA. There’s simply no way Apple could have made changes to how iTunes identifies an iPod and passed the new build through QA in such a short amount of time.

21 thoughts on “Palm Pre USB hack confirmed

  1. Gil Bates

    Palm’s investors have all but said they’ll sue Apple for abuse of their iTunes monopoly if the Pre is unfairly blocked.

  2. GQB

    Well, if they spoof their identity under Media Sync mode, what’s to keep them from doing the same in USB mode?
    I assume the simple block by Apple you speak of would be to read the USB string and disallow Media Sync for Palm?

    Not sure what I think Apple should do, but it does smell desperate from Palm. “We’re better than Apple, and oh btw, buy us because we use Apple’s software.”

  3. sburlbaw

    Well hopefully Apple doesn’t slap our hand away now that we’ve got our hands in the cookie Jar! Go Palm!

  4. Dan

    I suspect that using Apple’s vendor ID is not allowed by USB.org and that USB.org could take action against Palm including but not limited to disallowing Palm from using the USB logo and claiming to be USB compliant. There may further copyright/trademark violations in using Apple’s Vendor ID.

  5. Sam Jackson

    I’m a Pre fan, but both a hater of iTunes and a VZW customer, so I guess it’s a moot point, but I’d hate to see Apple take away this functionality, since it does seem like a nice feature. Mostly I just want to see the WebOS platform survive and thrive long enough to make it to Big Red so I’ll have something to replace my aging Q, so, anything that hurts that makes me sad! ; )

  6. Ian C.

    Whether Apples cares or blocks it or not, this is surely in contravention of USB standards – Palm cannot do this and then claim their product is USB compatible (but maybe they don’t make any such claim)

  7. Ken

    Thanks for posting the confirmation although your statement “This means that Apple can very easily update iTunes to block the Pre.” – this was never in doubt, no? I mean, is it even possible for Pre to identify itself in a way that cannot be blocked by iTunes?

    (Yes, that was a thinly veiled challenge to you hackers out there!)

  8. Jeff

    How else *would* Apple identify the device other than using the device ID? The filesystem is also being emulated by Palm. There is the “Firewire GUID” that was introduced in iPods after 2007 (see http://gtkpod.wikispaces.com/Sysinfo+File). The only problem is that if Apple requires this, it could break older iPods from working with iTunes.

    If a device lies about itself on the USB bus, is there really anything you can do?

  9. Raveem

    Does this mean other USB mountable phones/storage devices can be modified so that they can sync with iTunes?

  10. narcogen

    If these were the actual corporate entities themselves, rather than devices, the Pre would be guilty of fraud. It’s claiming it is an Ipod, and it’s not. It is claiming it was made by Apple, and it wasn’t. It’s fraud.

    How long before somebody files an iTunes bug report with Apple claiming they need to fix a problem with his “iPod”, substantiated by a console log with a device that claims to be an iPod, but isn’t?

  11. kirasaw

    Look for a new version of iTunes. It will not block the Pre but when a Pre is detected it will send ads to them advising that Palm is using an unauthorized method to sync and then offer them a discount to switch to the iPhone :))

  12. Ken

    @Dan “There may further copyright/trademark violations in using Apple’s Vendor ID.”

    It does not take a first year law student to tell you that an ID, which is a fact, is neither copyrightable nor can it be trademarked.

    @Dan and @Ian

    “using Apple’s vendor ID is not allowed by USB.org” and “surely in contravention of USB standards”

    [citation needed]

    And seriously, like USB-IF is going to take on Palm?

  13. Frank

    Gil,

    1) iTunes isn’t a monopoly.
    2) Please describe in what universe it would be considered unfair if Apple stopped Palm from using their intellectual property that they spent billions of dollars developing over the past 8 years.

    Those of you that like Palm and want the Pre to succeed should be pushing for Palm to come up with their own sync solution. It will only make the Pre stronger. I am currently an iPhone user but I want the Pre to succeed because I feel that any device that gives the iPhone competition will only push Apple to make the iPhone even better. Also, my previous phone was a Treo 700p, which I used for 2 years. While I liked using the Treo itself I can tell you that I definitely cursed Palm every time I had to sync the damn thing with my computer. And that is after I spent extra money buying The MIssing Sync because Palm’s own sync solution was horrible. I wished that they would have spent the time, money, and effort developing a good sync solution. The way they’ve gone about this sucks for their customers.

    Another thing that sucks about this implementation is the lack of Contacts synchronization. In the iTunes screen shots you can see a Contacts tab and when the Pre is selected you can even navigate to that tab and check the boxes. However, it doesn’t actually sync your contacts via iTunes. How do you think this is going to make customers feel that just spent $200 and signed a two-year contract for their shiny new phone.

    Partial, potentially breakable sync. Beta app store. This whole thing is half-assed on Palm’s part.

    They have what looks to be a great device that they pushed out the door before all the supporting pieces were in place. I hope they can get their act together soon. If they don’t this may be the best device to ever put the final nail in a company’s coffin.

  14. abcyesn

    got mine!!! my WONDERFUL hubby didnt want me there by myself & my 8 yr old did NOT want to get up at 5 am & go, so he went by himself. I was surprised cuz he told me Monday he was soooo sick of hearing me talk about that effin phone!! lol – he got there at 6am there were 2 cars in the lot but nobody in line.
    at 7:30 i told him to go start the line – sure enough a few more people followed. Our BB had 10 & I (technically my husband) was first in line.
    BB rep came out at 9 and gave “line tix” and started the paperwork.
    The first one they tried to activate was defective so sorry to the person who was #10 and didnt get a pre!!
    I got mine and will be playing with it for the rest of the day (at least)!!!! Talk more at http://www.PalmPreForum.org see ya there.

  15. Royce

    NICE :P stick it to apple side ways with out a reach around is all i say… I use to be a mac user till apple and att totally screwed me over. the fact that the device can STINK (that’s what i call syncing with and apple program or device) with iTunes is kinda cool that it can do that I will never but a lot of people will want to…

  16. Jingo5

    Regardless of this bit of side stepping to get functionality with Itunes even if Apple tried to prevent it the Linux community can use gtkpod without any issues.

    Already tested it out on my Pre and gtkpod syncs without any issues.

  17. Zibri

    Are they crazy?!?!
    I thought they had some agreement with apple and not faking an ID !
    Let’s say someone makes a great application that works with a special hardware.
    Faking that hardware to use that application is a FRAUD.
    Apple will file a profitable lawsuit. I’m sure of that.

  18. Seth Schoen

    I think it’s scandalous that users have sympathy for anyone who deliberately tries to break interoperability of products, let alone lining up to cheer on the use of the legal system to crush competitors. Things that can interoperate should interoperate. When someone makes them fail to interoperate, that’s breaking a product; restoring interoperability is fixing breakage.

    One authority against at least some legal theories that would prohibit use of another manufacturer’s codes to achieve interoperability is Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade Inc., 977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir. 1992).

  19. Dominic Son

    If apple decides to block Pre, Pre users will just switch to something else, and could impact iTunes proliferation.

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