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Ever since January when Palm (PALM) unveiled the Pre — the first smartphone to challenge Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone with a multitouch screen of its own — the tech press has been waiting for Cupertino to respond. COO Tim Cook made a couple of clenched-teeth threats about companies that rip off Apple’s intellectual property, but nothing came of it.

Until now.

On Tuesday, 10 days after the Pre went on sale, Apple published a one-paragraph support article on its website that addressed one of the device’s most ballyhood selling points: its ability to sync seamlessly with iTunes. The note doesn’t mention Palm or the Pre by name, but it doesn’t have to:

Apple designs the hardware and software to provide seamless integration of the iPhone and iPod with iTunes, the iTunes Store, and tens of thousands of apps on the App Store. Apple is aware that some third-parties claim that their digital media players are able to sync with Apple software. 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. (link)

As John Gruber, the first to spot the snippy missive, put it in his Daring Fireball blog, “Translation: ‘Nice iTunes syncing you’ve got, Palm. Be a shame if something happened to it.'”

Other devices can be made to sync with iTunes, of course. Apple used to maintain a list of compatible MP3 players that included the likes of Creative Labs’ Nomad and SonicBlue’s Rio. And there are plenty of BlackBerry owners who regularly download songs from their iTunes libraries.

But the Pre is different. It presents iTunes with a hardware ID that identifies itself as an iPod — a hack the former Apple engineers on team Pre are well equipped to pull off. Led by Jon Rubinstein, who built the original iPod, they are perfectly capable of engaging in the kind of cat-and-mouse games Apple regularly plays with iPhone jailbreakers.

Indeed, Palm’s response to Apple support article HT3642 suggests that it has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.

“Palm’s media sync works with the current version of iTunes,” Palm spokesperson Lynn Fox told Digital Daily‘s John Paczkowski. “If Apple chooses to disable media sync in a future version of iTunes, it will be a direct blow to their users who will be deprived of a seamless synchronization experience. However, people will have options. They can stay with the iTunes version that works to sync their music on their Pre, they can transfer the music via USB, and there are other third-party applications we could consider.”

Let the games begin.

Image courtesy of the New York
Daily News

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