Every few years we geeks have our own kind of popcorn show to watch: tech companies showing teeth to one another. This time around, it’s Palm vs Apple. In all seriousness though, how ethical is the battle around iTunes?
A few weeks ago I blogged about the situation of Palm posing as an iPod on iTunes. I called this a gray area, with no easy answer. In fact, I found that debating the original situation was a waste of time because both companies had good reasons to do what they do (although I was personally mostly siding with Palm with this).
A few weeks later Apple closed the door for Palm with an iTunes fix, and yesterday Palm bit back with another fix to re-enable iTunes support for the Pre. However, it’s this last “fix” that now made me side with Apple. You see, Palm now uses a device ID that belongs to Apple. In other words, Palm is now presenting their product as an Apple one. Palm should have not done that because it’s not ethical to claim that you’re someone else. Palm overstepped some boundaries with their latest update: “Unauthorized use of assigned or unassigned USB Vendor ID Numbers and associated Product ID Numbers are strictly prohibited”, the USB-IF states.
Instead, Palm should have done one of the following:
1. Sue Apple on grounds of abusing monopoly. Just like we spent 4 years watching Microsoft and its IE getting dragged to the court about being anti-competitive, that’s what should happen to Apple too. Don’t forget that originally iTunes was an open player, it could even work with third party plugins and devices. It was only later, when the iPod got successful that Apple “closed down” iTunes in order to control their success even more. Given that in the US iTunes and iPods have around 80% (or more) of the market share, Palm could sue. Although, now that Palm spoofs as an Apple product, Apple could counter-sue (bad move on Palm’s part).
2. Forget about iTunes, and go help these poor guys in San Francisco (in all intents and purposes down the road from Palm’s offices), the Songbird team. This player will be almost feature-complete compared to iTunes by year’s end. If Palm could either finance them, or send 1-2 engineers to help them out, everyone would win: Songbird would be a real multi-platform OSS alternative to iTunes, and Palm and ANY other manufacturer would have an iTunes-like alternative that works. They could also partner with the Amazon Store to include an Amazon mp3 plugin as an alternative to iTunes Store (the Android phones do that, and it works mighty fine).
I guess, what I am saying here is that Palm did have options instead of spoofing their product as an Apple one. Maybe not immediate options for their consumers (although don’t forget that the Pre can be also used as a USB drive for mp3 uploading), but options nonetheless.
I hope that Palm gets with the program, forgets iTunes, and goes with Songbird. This way, everyone wins: Palm, the customers, the rest of the cell/mp3 manufacturers, OSS, and even Apple, who wants to play all by itself in the corner.