Industry Body Backs Apple's Itunes Device Lock-In

The industry body that regulates the use of USB computer connector technology has said that Apple is entitled to block devices made by other companies from connecting directly to its iTunes software.

Apple offers the popular iTunes software for free to consumers, who use it to organise their music and video files on their machines. Apple's devices, such as iPods and iPhones, connect directly to the software but others need intermediary software to do so.

Competitor Palm released iPhone competitor device the Pre, which 'spoofed' iTunes into thinking that it was an Apple device, enabling it to connect to iTunes without the use of intermediary software.

Palm complained to the body that regulates use of USB computer-connection technology, the USB Implementers Forum, saying that Apple was misusing the unique vendor ID numbers attached to each company to block non-Apple devices.

Business Week magazine in the US has now said that it has seen the Forum's ruling, and that it says that it is Palm which is misusing USB technology.

Palm had reportedly been using Apple's vendor ID to fool iTunes software into thinking its devices were Apple machines. Business Week said that Palm told the Forum that it would continue to use Apple's vendor ID to fool the system.

The Forum said that this was an abuse of the system and should stop.

"Palm may only use the single Vendor ID issued to Palm for Palm’s usage … usage of another company’s Vendor ID is specifically precluded," the magazine reported the Forum as saying.

Apple's determination to ensure that its popular free software works directly only with its own devices has raised concerns in Europe about possible violations of competition law.

The Consumer Ombudsman in Norway referred a case last year to the Market Council, which can order companies to change their behaviour, over the issue. It said that Apple was in breach of consumer protection and competition law because some songs bought via the iTunes shop could only be played on Apple devices.

"It’s a consumer’s right to transfer and play digital content bought and downloaded from the Internet to the music device he himself chooses to use," said Consumer Ombudsman Bjørn Erik Thon last September. "ITunes makes this impossible or at least difficult, and hence they act in breach of Norwegian law."

The European Commission has taken action in the past on the issue of interoperability, which is the ability of hardware and software from different companies to work together.

The Commission has an ongoing investigation into the interoperability of Microsoft's market-leading Office collection of applications with other companies' software. It was previously fined €497 million in part because it did not allow its Windows operating system to be compatible with other firms' software.

Apple also faces scrutiny over the interoperability decisions it is making with its iPhone device. US telecoms regulator the Federal Communications Commission said this summer that it would look into the company's refusal to allow a Google-developed voice over internet protocol (VoIP) program called Google Voice to become an iPhone application.

The FCC has written to Apple, Google and US iPhone network AT&T, saying that it wants to gain "a more complete understanding" of the situation.