Palm's latest webOS 1.2.1 for the Pre handset restored a feature which allowed Pre users to sync media with iTunes. While on the face of it this seems like a good idea and one that empowers users, ultimately it's not and it threatens to plunge us into "driver hell." It's time for Palm to give up the iTunes sync nonsense.
Apple aren't happy with Palm, and have asked them to disable the feature, and the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) have said that Palm is potentially violating its USB-IF Membership Agreement by making the Pre handset look like an Apple device.
So how does this hack work? Basically Palm is using Apple's USB-IF vendor ID. Plug a Palm Pre to a computer and it identifies itself as follows:
USB Product ID: 0×1209
USB Vendor ID: 0×05ac (Apple, Inc)
Manufacturer: Apple Inc.
This revelation worried the USB-IF enough to ask Palm for clarification:
I attach for your information the USB-IF’s adopted and published policy regarding Vendor Identification Numbers (VIDs). Under the Policy, Palm may only use the single Vendor ID issued to Palm for Palm’s usage. Usage of any other company’s Vendor ID is specifically precluded. Palm’s expressed intent to use Apple’s VID appears to violate the attached policy.
Please clarify Palm’s intent and respond to this potential violation within seven days.
It seems by updating webOS to once again work with iTunes, Palm has clarified its position. The next move by the USB-IF could be to revoke Palm's membership, but since the company is using Apple's vendor ID, this wouldn't help much.
Apple's response is to play a cat and mouse game and disable the hack with each release of iTunes. This might annoy Palm enough to give up, or it might not.
This leaves consumers caught in the middle.
So, what's wrong with what Palm is doing? Well, basically it's bringing disarray to drivers. Drivers are complicated enough and prone to enough problems without us needing to get into a situation where one device pretends to be another. What Palm is doing is wrong because they are promising their customers a feature that they can't reliably provide. They're also paving the way for other vendors (big, legitimate vendors, not hokey ones) to do the same. Pretty soon we could be in a situation where you have no idea what a device will show up as when it's plugged into a computer, no idea what driver or software application it needs, and no idea who to turn to when things don't work any more.
Palm, quit it with the USB vendor ID nonsense before you ruing USB for us all!