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Palm Pre "iTunes Hack" Detailed By DVD Jon 338

Posted by timothy
from the role-playing-game dept.
CNETNate writes "As the reviews of the Palm Pre start to roll in, DVD Jon expands on previous coverage of the Pre showing up in iTunes as some sort of an iPod, by publishing the offending code Palm has used to enabled the feature. As suspected, in regular USB mode, the phone addresses itself as a standard peripheral. But in 'Media Sync' mode, it claims to be an iPod ... from a vendor known as Apple."
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Palm Pre "iTunes Hack" Detailed By DVD Jon

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  • Poor Open Source (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheNinjaroach (878876)
    Inevitably Apple will move to block this, making the next model of iPods that much harder to use with open source software.
    • Or maybe Palm is angling for something :-)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrEricSir (398214)

      Whereas the current generation of iPods is usable with open source software? Gimmie a break dude. If you can get my goddamn Nano 3G to work with Linux, you can have it.

      (That's right, a free iPod Nano!)

    • by ohcrapitssteve (1185821) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:28PM (#28212807) Homepage
      I've never seen the rules one should follow when releasing a device that might end up in millions of hands, but I'm sure they include the following:

      1) Don't use an unstable hack to enable a feature that a very large percentage of potential users will be counting on.
      2) Don't base a feature on a cat-and-mouse game. Especially with the likes of Apple, who are really good at that particular game.
      3) Don't meddle in the affairs of a patent dragon, for thou art tasty and good with ketchup. Jobs was bragging about patents in the iPhone announcement keynote, for Christ sake.
      • Re:Poor Open Source (Score:5, Informative)

        by changa (197280) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @02:38PM (#28213883) Homepage

        I think Palm is counting on them yelling than then Palm will lean on them with their patents.

        Remember Palm defined this space long before Apple did and from a few quotes from palm recently they are going to use that as leverage.

        Quote from Palm CEO:

        "The whole area of patents is elaborate; a lot of issues there, and a very complex area. One of the things we've done over 15 years is build a very extensive patent portfolio in the mobile computing space, one of the highest-rated patent portfolios in this space, which contains more than 1,500 patents. And the reason you do that is to have a defensive position in the marketplace. It's kind of like two little porcupines going around, and you don't want to touch each other because you might get stung. You peacefully coexist and everything's OK and we keep working together."

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DurendalMac (736637)
          I doubt it. Both of them could start firing volleys at each other, but who has more money and could keep the case tied up for a few very expensive years? Apple. They have hordes of lawyers and boatloads of cash to keep them going. Palm doesn't have nearly as much capital for that kind of job. They'd be foolish to deliberately try testing Apple's legal mettle.
  • by kipin (981566) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:39PM (#28212103) Homepage
    I can't imagine a major competitor to the Apple iPhone will be allowed to do this without a lawsuit smacking them in the face. Then again, perhaps Palm wants a lawsuit to bring additional media attention to their device.

    Seems like a risky move by Palm, their entire future most likely rests on this device. Without it succeeding the risk of Palm going under are pretty high. Might as well shoot for the fences I guess.
    • by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:44PM (#28212175)
      I very much doubt this was orchestrated in order to gain publicity. Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by a rogue engineer who wanted his phone to work with iTunes.
    • by Chaos Incarnate (772793) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:53PM (#28212317) Homepage
      They may be hit with a lawsuit, but if Palm did their job right, they'll escape scot-free same as Compaq did in the early '80s.
    • Umm... why the fuss? (Score:5, Informative)

      by exhilaration (587191) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:56PM (#28212367)
      Why would Apple sue over this? On what grounds? There's no copy protection being circumvented, no cryptography being broken, it's a plaintext response. Also remember when that when Apple suggested legal trouble [boingboing.net] for Palm, Palm suggested that they wouldn't hesitate to strike back [boingboing.net] with their own patent portfolio. I can't see either party taking anything to court.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ITJC68 (1370229)
        I agree. This would mean more revenue for Itunes. You don't have hardware lock in.... Oh that is anti Apple thinking there..... The only tangible reason Apple would sue is this would be in direct competition with its overprices Iphone. Plus you would not be locked in to AT&T or is AT&T the only vendor that will have this phone too?
      • by WiiVault (1039946)
        I'm pretty sure that they both know that in the end Apple would come out ahead in any legal battle. If just by the size of their coffers. But Palm doesn't want to go down that road. Apple doesn't either.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by X0563511 (793323)

        It's like MAD [wikipedia.org], only with patents!

  • Antitrust? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:39PM (#28212115)

    Apple could sue, and Palm could counter-sue with antitrust claims. After all, Apple does control most of the music market via iTunes.

    I vaguely recall a lawsuit where Apple was sued for limiting the iPod to only iTunes (Apple won), but I don't think anybody has challenged the reverse (using something else with iTunes) in court.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by larry bagina (561269)
      Apple isn't doing anything (illegal or otherwise) to interfere or prevent other online music stores from operating. iTunes popularity is due to brand loyalty, mind share, convenience, and being first.
  • by avm (660) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:41PM (#28212131) Journal

    Silly Apple, if it only identifies its devices via a USB identifier, but interacts with them in standard, easily emulated ways, all the while going for the exclusivity angle.

    Silly Palm, for thinking Apple will take this lying down. But kudos for the balls to do it anyway.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:47PM (#28212223)

      Silly Apple, if it only identifies its devices via a USB identifier, but interacts with them in standard, easily emulated ways, all the while going for the exclusivity angle.

      If it's only identifying devices in a standard, easily enumerated way - then they obviously are not going for the exclusivity angle. That part is your assertion but actual technical details seem to prove your assertion wrong.

      Silly Palm, for thinking Apple will take this lying down.

      I honestly don't think Apple will care much. It leads to more people buying things from iTunes after all and cements the dominance of iTunes for managing media. Perhaps they even did this in conjuction with Palm... if you think about it they would have been smart to do so.

      But kudos for the balls to do it anyway.

      Can't argue with that. Palm is an amazing company to come back the way they have, makes me think of the Palm of old...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjstrutt (603317)

        I honestly don't think Apple will care much. It leads to more people buying things from iTunes after all and cements the dominance of iTunes for managing media. Perhaps they even did this in conjuction with Palm... if you think about it they would have been smart to do so.

        Think of iTunes as a driving force between iPod sales rather than the iPod as a driving force behind iTunes sales and you'll understand why Apple may be against this.

        • Force Neutral (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SuperKendall (25149)

          Think of iTunes as a driving force between iPod sales rather than the iPod as a driving force behind iTunes sales and you'll understand why Apple may be against this.

          Yes, I totally agree the intent is for iTunes to sell iPods.

          The Pre supporting iTunes does not change this equation. More people using iTunes is more people that might have a reason to get an iPhone, even if at first they get a Pre.

          Also, there are a lot of people that have phones but also iPods. Having a smaller iPod for running is common...

          F

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:43PM (#28212155)

    Two points:

    1) This is impossible for Apple to block. If according to USB it's an iPod, how can Apple distinguish? They can try to see if any little details are missing, but in the end any probing they do can easily be met by Palm.

    Nor is it even unsafe, because the code to support older iPods is pretty stable and will not change over time - the older iPods will always be supported.

    2) I'm pretty sure Apple sill not sue. What legality is there around USB identifiers? Nothing. The only hook there is the Apple string in the ID, but I don't think it's enough to put a case around. Why bother with the expense of a suit.

    It's a clever idea from Palm and I applaud them for it.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      They are pretending to be an Apple device. I don't think that's legal.

    • by uglyduckling (103926) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:50PM (#28212269) Homepage
      Well, if you read the article you would see that "the root USB node (IOUSBDevice) still identifies the device as a Palm Pre", therefore it appears that there are checks that could be put into the next version of iTunes to block this. If Apple were a bit smarter, they would make iTunes available for 50 quid for non-iPod devices.
    • Apple could probably block this fairly easily, actually, without breaking support for any of their own products.

      1.)Release new version of iTunes that checks specifically for the Pre.
      2.)Release new firmware for existing iPods to ensure they work with the new version of iTunes.
      3.)Require a firmware update in order to work with the current version of iTunes.
      4.)Require a current version of iTunes in order to access the iTunes store.

      And just like that, we have a new version of iTunes that's incompatible
      • 1.)Release new version of iTunes that checks specifically for the Pre.
        2.)Release new firmware for existing iPods to ensure they work with the new version of iTunes.

        You just lost me at step 2.

        The fact is that firmware upgrades for older iPods are unlikely to be installed by users for some time. It could take a year or more for that to propagate.... not to mention that whatever change you make to the older iPods can more easily be mimicked by Palm than it is to put together for Apple at this point! Apple w

    • by iluvcapra (782887)

      This is impossible for Apple to block. [...] Nor is it even unsafe, because the code to support older iPods is pretty stable and will not change over time - the older iPods will always be supported.

      As Jon points out in TFA, the Pre still identifies itself as a Pre on it's root device node, even when it's in Media Sync mode, so it's trivial to block, it only requires Apple do so.

      More broadly, Apple can make any scheme like this very difficult for a lot of people for a very long time, enough to make the feature impractical for casual use, which is the whole principle of DRM anyways. Apple can push firmware updates to the old iPods and make the old owners upgrade before moving on to iTunes 9, or iTunes

    • by idontgno (624372)

      2) I'm pretty sure Apple sill not sue. What legality is there around USB identifiers? Nothing.

      Yet. Apple has sufficient confidence in its litigation tactics to bet a little on the chance of creating by judicial action a new legally-protected pseudo-category of the ever-nebulous legal entity called "Intellectual Property" for Apple-distinctive technical identification data. Especially if they can paint Palm's methods as a circumvention device (irrespective of which copyrights are having their protection "

      • by jackbird (721605)
        Especially if they can paint Palm's methods as a circumvention device (irrespective of which copyrights are having their protection "circumvented").

        I thought the garage door opener DMCA case (as well as the DMCA's own interoperability clause) settled this issue already vis a vis DMCA violations.

        I also don't see anything about the Pre being able to play DRMed .m4a files, which would be more dangerous ground to tread.

    • 1) This is impossible for Apple to block. If according to USB it's an iPod, how can Apple distinguish? They can try to see if any little details are missing, but in the end any probing they do can easily be met by Palm.

      If I was Apple, and I intended to be nasty: I would find exactly what iPod model the Pre pretends to be (should be trivial). Next, iTunes checks all the time whether your iPod needs any new software. So Apple fixes a few bugs in that iPod model. Next time you connect your iPod to iTunes, its firmware gets updated. Next time you connect your Pre to iTunes, well, iTunes attempts to install iPod software on a Pre and I have no idea how happy the Pre will be with that :-(

      Obviously I wouldn't do this right no

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Next time you connect your Pre to iTunes, well, iTunes attempts to install iPod software on a Pre and I have no idea how happy the Pre will be with that :-(

        Well, the Pre will just respond with 'sure, upload the new firmware!' and pipe it over to the Pre equivalent of /dev/null. Then it will respond with the 'upgrade worked! Thanks alot!' code.

        Or, worst comes to worst, a simple update to the Pre allows it to emulate the new and improved firmware version.

        • Well, the Pre will just respond with 'sure, upload the new firmware!' and pipe it over to the Pre equivalent of /dev/null. Then it will respond with the 'upgrade worked! Thanks alot!' code.

          I sure hope so. If the Pre takes the firmware update and burns it into the Pre firware flash, there are going to be a lot of extremely pissed Pre owners....
      • by PJ1216 (1063738) *
        Do you think Apple wants a bunch of calls from Pre users? Do you think there aren't a whole lot of them who don't know or don't care that Apple isn't responsible for it? All the users will know is that Apple purposely broke a certain functionality of their phone on purpose. That'll be awesome for Apple's PR team.
    • by DdJ (10790) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:19PM (#28212655) Homepage Journal

      Nor is it even unsafe, because the code to support older iPods is pretty stable and will not change over time - the older iPods will always be supported.

      But iPods can get firmware updates.

      The older iPods will always be supported. But do you know what happens if you plug in a first generation iPod right now and don't permit iTunes to update its firmware?

      All Apple has to do is put out firmware updates for all the legacy iPods (which they really have done in the past) and require those upgrades for iTunes to continue working. Apple can block this if they want to.

      Which is kinda stupid on Palm's part, IMO.

      You can use iTunes with other MP3 players -- I have several that still work with it. If iTunes sees a driver for your music player, it'll work with it. Palm could have done whatever they wanted and distributed a driver for their device, or they could have emulated a non-Apple device for which iTunes already had a driver (eg. Diamond Rio), which Apple doesn't have the freedom to require firmware updates for. I can understand why they didn't do the former -- they want users to be able to just plug in the devices and have them work, rather than installing device drivers. But I think it was unnecessarily risky to spoof an Apple device.

    • by DdJ (10790) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:27PM (#28212799) Homepage Journal

      1) This is impossible for Apple to block. If according to USB it's an iPod, how can Apple distinguish?

      You didn't read all the links in the article.

      It's not the case that it's an iPod according to USB. That's not what Palm did.

      It's a USB device with an array of sub-devices. The mass storage portion claims to be an iPod mass storage device... but if you look at the whole tree, you can see that it's connected via a Palm device.

      The Pre does not pretend to be an iPod instead of a Pre. It pretends to be a Pre with an iPod inside it. Even easier for Apple to block than I had thought, if they care at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    These types of hacks used to be common. Everybody had their own proprietary protocols and did everything they could to lock customers into their own high-priced peripherals. Companies constantly hacked other companies' protocols and interfaces so they could offer alternatives.

    These days this is rare because now the industry knows the value of standards, open when possible. In hindsight I think Palm has the right idea in trying to interface with iTunes for media syncing.

    Is it time for an open standard for me

    • Is it time for an open standard for media syncing?

      Is it time? Yes. Will you get one? Not while DRM is still a consideration (and it's going to take a long time before they stop selling encumbered video).

      • Is it time? Yes. Will you get one? Not while DRM is still a consideration

        But DRM is not a consideration for Music any longer. Video doesn't matter, music alone is worthwhile enough to make such a standard (though include video for when companies come to their senses).

    • Is it time for an open standard for media syncing?

      You mean... like some sort of USB mass storage protocol? ;)

    • MTP (Score:5, Informative)

      by assassinator42 (844848) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:14PM (#28212575)
      Well, there is a standard for media syncing [wikipedia.org], but it's developed by Microsoft and apparently not followed. Especially by Microsoft with their Zune, as they decided to ignore the standards they had created and sold to third-party developers in favor of something that only works with their software.
      Mass storage mode still seems to work better. Again, Microsoft will allow watching a video on the Xbox 360 from a mass storage device but not a MTP device.
  • by Ironchew (1069966) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @12:46PM (#28212205)

    *If* this is the only way to get data from iTunes, then spoofing the model and vendor should be like the Game Boy requesting an image of the Nintendo logo at bootup. There was a court ruling back in the 90s (Sega vs Galoob, I think) that said the image was treated as a password to go through the BIOS bootup, therefore, anybody could put it in their games. This is probably a completely different ball game, though.

  • At the end of the day, I guess I'm missing why everyone thinks Apple would care?

    The Pre isn't sold by AT&T, and in the US everyone is basically tied to long term carrier based contracts to get smart phones. So if you own a Pre, you're not going to be getting an iPhone for at least a year or two at best.

    So why would you want to block the device from working with your music store at that point? There's no lost hardware sale, but if you play nice you'll keep getting music sales. Maybe if you do a good e

  • by argent (18001) <peter@NOsPam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:08PM (#28212511) Homepage Journal

    Dumping the USB registers: cool.

    Commentator confusing USB registers with code: not cool.

    Mod DVD Jon +1
    Mod Slashdot -1

  • How could Palm know how the iPod and iTunes communicate?

    Wouldn't that require some "reverse engineering" (even if it is easy to do)?

  • Is it good, or bad, to reveal Palm's trick? It only makes it easier for Apple to attack Palm's workaround and I'm not sure how that benefits the majority of the consumers.
    • Re:Good or Bad? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ledow (319597) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @01:28PM (#28212803) Homepage

      You really think that there isn't a SINGLE Apple employee who couldn't get hold of a Pre if they wanted to, or that they don't already have one? Even in their hardware, PR, developer etc. departments? And that "revelation" was basically revealed by plugging the device in and looking at the usbid... lsusb would have done it in a single command and there are even prettier interfaces for Windows for free.

      Obscurity is a waste of time when you're hoping the *designers* of a system don't realise how you've worked around it - it's like "telling" the DVD forum about the CSS hack - they already know *how* you circumvent it, but they may not know the exact method by which you discovered it (that's the bit that *doesn't* matter). The designers of any such system already know, or it would take seconds to make 10 guesses at how, and it would take minutes to actually discover how even without basic knowledge - you just run it through a debug version of iTunes and see what happens.

      Don't be silly. It's like saying Microsoft don't know how people are installing pirate copies of Windows, or upping the TCP connection limit, or Nintendo not knowing how the Wii hacks work. It takes *seconds* for them to work it out once it's been revealed, even if they would never have thought of it. They DESIGNED the system, after all.

  • On the one hand, this seems a brilliant and gutsy move by Palm. On the other hand, I really dislike devices or applications that pretend to be a competitor's. On the third hand, I dislike even more that this is sometimes necessary to provide some reasonable amount of interoperability.

    What would be hilarious is if during the trial they break open a Pre and there's a Nano inside. :-)

  • Quoth DVD Jon... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @02:32PM (#28213783) Homepage

    In TFA, DVD Jon says this:

    ...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. The root USB node (IOUSBDevice) still identifies the device as a Palm Pre (not visible in the image above). This means that Apple can very easily update iTunes to block the Pre.

    Emphasis added by me.

    I agree with him: all Apple has to do is add code to check the root USB node, see that the device is a Palm Pre, and refuse to accept the device as an iPod.

    P.S. If Palm had just gone to Apple and said "we want to make the Palm Pre sync with iTunes", would Apple have been reasonable about it? I saw a comment on Slashdot mentioning that there are non-Apple devices that sync with iTunes, implying that Apple can be reasonable. But in this case, the Pre is competing with the iPhone! I imagine Apple would do anything they could to sandbag a competitor, including denying iTunes.

    Apple won't sue Palm. But I won't be surprised if they do this check and lock the Pre out of iTunes.

    steveha

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday June 04, 2009 @04:38PM (#28215375) Journal

      P.S. If Palm had just gone to Apple and said "we want to make the Palm Pre sync with iTunes", would Apple have been reasonable about it? I saw a comment on Slashdot mentioning that there are non-Apple devices that sync with iTunes, implying that Apple can be reasonable.

      That ability is left-over from the SoundJam days, which is why the list is so antiquated. I'm also pretty sure that whatever sync code there is for 3rd party devices was written by Apple, not the device manufacturer.

      Personally, I think this is one of those, "Easier to ask forgiveness than permission" things. Assuming that Apple will sue Palm, this is just another thing that Apple can add to the list and will be worked out in whatever settlement Apple and Palm come to.

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