Scooplet: the Palm Pre syncs with iTunes

May 28, 2009, 11:14 AM UTC

It came up briefly at CES in January when a Palm (PALM) representative let the cat out of the bag (see here). Nobody followed up.

But with more and more Palm Pres appearing in the wild — in the hands of Palm employees, Elevation partners, one of my high-school buddies, even the Boy Genius — we can now confirm this little secret:

Plug a Pre into a Mac and it syncs, seamlessly, with Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes.

In fact, the iTunes Store treats the Pre just as it would an iPod or an iPhone with one two exceptions: it can’t handle old copy-protected songs or, naturally, iPhone apps.

Third party programs that sync music with various non-Apple MP3 players — including the Palm Treo and 700p —  have been available for some time. But team Pre has apparently built the necessary code right into the device’s firmware.

They certainly have the know-how. The team is chock-a-block with former Apple employees and is led by Palm president Jon Rubinstein, who built the original iPod for Steve Jobs.

How Apple legal will respond to a presumably unauthorized invasion of their music store remains to be seen.

Asked about the Pre during a quarterly earnings call in January, COO Tim Cook said Apple would use whatever weapons it has at its disposal to fight companies that rip off its intellectual property.

An Apple spokesperson, reached for comment earlier this week, would only say that the company does not respond to rumor and speculation.

UPDATE: From John Paczkowski’s coverage of the Pre demo given Thursday afternoon by Palm’s Jon Rubinstein at D7: All Things Digital:

  • Plug the Pre into a PC and you’re offered the option of using the device as a USB drive, charging it or beginning a “media sync.” Interesting, using media sync the Pre does indeed sync with iTunes, though it’s hamstrung by Apple’s DRM protected songs. Can’t imagine Apple’s too happy about that. Presumably, Apple legal is already drafting a letter. Pre appears to make iTunes think it’s an iPod.
  • How is Apple going to feel about that, asks Walt. Rubenstein dodges a bit noting that there are a variety of ways of getting music out of iTunes. Walt pushes back pointing out that this is the first non-Apple device that is recognized as an Apple device by a Mac. Rubenstein dodges again. McNamee jumps in, refers to Apple as a monopolist and says people should be able to use music that they purchase in what ever way they see fit.
  • Media sync feature also works with iPhoto and syncs photos to the Pre. That’s not likely to go over well at Apple either.

For an explanation of how the Pre does this — and how it is different from how, say, RIM and Nokia translate iTunes library files — see Jon Lech Johansen’s primer here.

UPDATE 2: Palm lists “Palm Media Sync” first among the features it trumpets in its post D7 press release:

Palm media sync is a feature of webOS that synchronizes seamlessly with iTunes, giving you a simple and easy way to transfer DRM-free music, photos and videos to your Palm Pre.(2) Simply connect Pre to your PC or Mac via the USB cable, select “media sync” on the phone, and iTunes will launch on your computer desktop. You can then choose which DRM-free media files to transfer.

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