Apple vs. Palm is really Steve Jobs vs. Jon Rubinstein

Is Apple (AAPL) versus Palm (PALM) the new Microsoft (MSFT) versus Apple?

What a difference a decade makes. In the '90s, it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs battling over operating systems, and Sun Microsystem's Scott McNealy throwing barbs at software enemy Mister Softee. Now it's Jobs going toe-to-toe with Palm's newly-anointed CEO, Jon Rubinstein -- who, by the way, helped engineer the development of Apple's iPod.
In case you've missed the fun, here's a summary. Palm advertised that its Palm Pre phone (above) can seamlessly connect to Apple's iTunes online store, so Pre users can listen to their music on their phone and take advantage of Apple's easy-to-manage music libraries. The Pre is identified as an iPod when connected to iTunes, which leads many to believe it can steal sales from the iPhone. Apple struck back by updating its software to lock out Palm's Pre -- but last week, Palm re-established the link, Bloomberg News and others reported.

Here's what's at risk. For Apple, the Pre is the closest rival to the iPhone on the market; it acts like an Apple product, and it brings a keyboard to the fight. If Apple fights hard, it gives Palm much free publicity. If Apple ignores Palm, there's nothing to stop other competitors from copying Palm's tactics, or for Palm to further raid Apple's innovations.

But if the battle continues, Palm risks losing customers who doubt it can keep Apple from blocking Pre out of iTunes. Palm also risks being branded a lesser product that's trying to keep up with the iPhone; if the Pre were superior to the iPhone, why would it need Apple's iTunes? And, potential customers will ask, why can't Palm build its own iTunes-like service? (Neither Apple or Palm were immediately available for comment when DailyFinance placed calls to their media-relations departments today.)

Seems this corporate battle may end up where many do: in the courtroom. But the longer it rages, the more consumers benefit from the added choices.

Not to be overlooked is the battle here between Jobs and Rubinstein his former employee at NeXT and Apple. If you don't think Jobs wants to bury Rubinstein and his upstart phone into the ground, then you're not familiar with the man. For those who follow tech, it'll be fun to watch Jobs and Rubinstein battle as the companies move against one another. Game on.

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.
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