The iPod Comet orbits the Earth in a biannual rotation, bringing new devices and attendant accessories into our view every Spring and Fall. The constellation is followed by a set of third-party developers and manufacturers who bolster the cloud as it swings into view and then disappear as the excitement wears off, relegating the devices to CostCos and Sam’s Clubs until the next rotation. But this season the orbit brought an anomaly: the Palm Pre, a device that is ostensibly compatible with the cloud, namely iTunes, but is definitely not of Apple’s world.
“Palm’s media sync works with the current version of iTunes,” Palm spokesperson Lynn Fox told me. “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 Pre, they can transfer the music via USB, and there are other third-party applications we could consider.”
So they’re hedging their bets. Like Musavi, Palm is looking for youth support to change to an unpopular regime but if the 50,000 people who bought Pres don’t care – which they won’t – they always can build a syncing app. No big deal.
But it is a big deal. As Devin pointed out, Apple hates freedom and Apple fans support that idea of a closed system with abandon, even if it goes against many of their principles. But why? Because Apple owns its own market and when folks try to horn in, be they Psystar or Palm, they realize how precarious their position is. They diluted their brand once, during the PowerPC days, and the resulting mess nearly destroyed the company. Apple, in short, has done what every CE manufacturer has tried to do for the past two decades but, contrary to their competitors efforts, they have succeeded. They created client lock-in, a sort of smothering bear-hug that convinces customers that they aren’t being slowly choked to death.
We’re big Mactards here at CG and TC. Why? Because, in lieu of hiring an IT support team we just buy Macs. That’s partly due to hardware quality – I rarely have to repair my Mac and they hold their resale value – and partly due to Apple’s marketing. Now that they’ve grabbed us they can push all sorts of garbage down our throats (iPod Shuffle, anyone) and we’ll eat it up, taking the good with the bad. And that kind of brand loyalty costs money and effort and Apple isn’t about to let the Palm Pre ride on its good will and install base.
Third parties can pay to join in the Apple party but they can’t crash it. This we’ve discovered over and over again. Apple acts like a media company more than a hardware company. They have gathered a following and now sell access to that following by allowing manufacturers to create devices to their exacting specifications. Woe betide thee if you try to hack the system. Like a media company, Apple has great lawyers.