Palm’s gain of brinksmanship with Apple over iTunes syncing in its webOS mobile operating system has taken one more step, as Palm as re-enabled iTunes syncing in webOS 1.2.1, available now as a free over-the-air update for Sprint customers. The move re-ignites the controversy over webOS’s ability to sync with iTunes, which heretofore has been restricted only to Apple devices. Apple has repeatedly warned that third-party tools that sync with iTunes could break at any time, and—like magic—every time Apple updates iTunes syncing mysteriously stops working under webOS.
The ability of webOS devices to appear like an iPod to the iTunes application is one of the selling points for the Palm pre and the forthcoming Palm pixi. Palm is enabling the feature by using Apple’s USB vendor ID number to more-or-less disguise Palm devices as an Apple device; the result is that iTunes believes the webOS device is one of its own. Palm accused Apple of stifling competition by restricting iTunes synching only to its own devices, and appealed to the USB Implementers Forum that Apple’s actions constituted a violation of their USB-IF membership agreement. However, last month, the USB-IF disagreed, saying that Apple’s use of its own vendor ID doesn’t appear to violate any USB-IF policies; however, the group did suggest that Palm’s use of Apple’s vendor ID may violate the USB-IF’s Membership Agreement, since the use of another company’s vendor ID is specifically prohibited. Palm has yet to officially respond to the USB-IF…although the webOS1.2.1 release is a pretty good indication of what Palm intends to do.
The webOS 1.2.1 update also fixes a synchronization issue some customers experienced with Exchange Server 2007, offers improved music and video streaming, and lets users sync photos without requiring full-resolution originals so users can pack more phone-sized images on their phones.