Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Palm and Apple play a poker game

In a poker game, you must answer to the call when your opponent is bluffing, otherwise you'll be forced to fold your cards and that means end of the game for you.

It all started back then before the Palm Prē™ itself was launched all across the U.S. on June 6th, to be exact was at All Things D conference when Walt Mossberg asked Palm's executive chairman Jon Rubinstein what lessons from Apple has Rubinstein brought to bear on his new work at Palm? Rubinstein's answer was:

“I worked with Steve for many years and learned a tremendous amount from him, the value of user experience and design–taste. I also learned the idea of great marketing…On the engineering side, I helped create the engineering culture at Apple, so obviously, the engineering culture at Palm bears some similarities to it.”

And apparently Rubinstein has brought his engeneering skill in the past as the head designer of Apple's iPod division to create more than similarities for the Prē™, still at the conference when the big demo screen showed the Prē™ instantly sync with Apple's iTunes, Rubinstein dodged questions from Mossberg over how Apple might feel about the sync capability. But then later after the conference, he conceded: "We designed Palm Media Sync to be an easy and elegant way for you to take the content you own and put it on Prē™."

Proves began to emerge showing that in order for the Prē™ to be able to sync with iTunes effortlessly, Palm must disguise the Prē™ as an iPod so then iTunes will think it as one of its own and sync. According to Jon Lech Johansen's blog the co-founder of doubleTwist; when the Pre is in “Media Sync” mode it identifies itself as an Apple iPod, however it’s only the Mass Storage interface that identifies itself as an iPod. So Apple can very easily update iTunes to block the "Media Sync" in Prē™.

That's a very risky plan for the Prē™, Palm's new hope and savior. Dare I say that Palm is desperate? There's another way to look at this, the iTunes has became so big that dominates the music industry including movies and people are actually accepting this simple fact just like that. Even Roger McNamee also said this during the All Things D conference: “We’re recognizing their market dominance…and they can’t tell people what to do with their music."

So why should Palm try to trump over iTunes dominance, and start a new service from the scratch to compete with it from the already depleted resources? It's easier to piggy-back the widely popular and well spread iTunes, than fight against it. And with Jon Rubinstein's knowledge of how iPod and iTunes works, things look a lot easier for Palm to do that.

Apple initates the first bluff

On last Tuesday, Apple posted up a technical note that warns about no guarantee is given to unsupported third-party digital media players:

"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."

The timing of the note, and the words in it are clearly although not directly pointing at the Palm Prē™ media syncing with iTunes.

Palm calls on the Apple's bluff

To respond Apple's passive tech note, Palm's spokesperson Lynn Fox (a former Apple employee herself) spoke up aggressively to All Things D'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 Prē™ , they can transfer the music via USB, and there are other third-party applications we could consider.”

It's actually a rather quick respond coming from Palm camp regarding the media sync matter, because it is too soon to know if Apple really is going to cut off the Prē™ ability to sync with iTunes or not. Like you, I also have been waiting if Apple is giving a respond back to Palm, or better yet maybe Apple will release a new version of iTunes that breaks the sync harmony of the Prē™. But it's already end of the weekend, and it's all silent and quiet...

Why mad at Palm and not to others?

"I bet there will be some legal maneuvering by Apple over this," said Jack Gold an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "Apple protects everything." (via PC World) Yes, sure Apple wants to protect its intellectual properties like when Apple threatens to do so about its iPhone multi-touch patent. And now this, but the question is why it has to be Palm again?

Why is the mother of all question, so before we get into the Palm part let's understand that there are already several sofwares out there to help non-Apple devices to sync with iTunes, then why would Apple mad at Palm instead of those softwares in the first place?

Is it because Palm Prē™ ability to sync directly from the device itself? Is it obviously the Prē™ introduces itself as an iPod to iTunes and Apple don't like that? Nope, the answer is much simpler than that. It is because Palm is the very reason itself, it's because from all of the big companies out there Apple sees Palm as one of them who could actually become a serious threat in the future. Especially when Jon Rubinstein is now appointed as the new CEO, replacing Ed Colligan the longest running leader of Palm.

It's not about who will win...

What exactly will Apple get if the Cupertino-based company really take the matter further, for an example by eliminate Palm Media Sync method in newer iTunes versions? First of all, Palm or any other companies / softwares will always find another way to sync with iTunes anyway. I don't think Apple want to burden its head with headaches of playing a game of cat-and-mouse, it's not worth the troubles.

Secondly and perhaps the most important result Apple should've thought of, is how the above action will make Apple look like a big bad company who bully others. This could really hurt Apple's image, while Palm will have the opposite result. Apple definetely don't want that to happen.

And how about Palm, what will it get with all of this? It's none other than sharing the spotlight with Apple, Palm is getting more attention again from the blogosphere and the company really need it to boost its stock share. It's a win-win situation for Palm; get a smooth media sync with iTunes and receive lots of coverage while doing it. But Apple also get the same attention from this.

For both companies, it's not about winning this trivial matter, but getting the most out of it while it lasts. And like playing a poker game, one needs to raise the stakes when the other is bluffing, and the remaining question is how far will the stakes go...?

Source is from Dan Moren - Macworld.

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