no-palmAt a recent conference, Palm executives proudly proclaimed the recently launched Pre smartphone’s ability to synchronize with Apple’s iTunes media. But the technical achievement may turn out to be temporary.

Apple hinted that future versions of iTunes may break compatibility with third-party media players. That’s one interpretation of a cryptic post that Apple made on its web site about how it’s not able to guarantee claims by third parties that their devices will be able to sync with iTunes. Of course, the wording doesn’t mention Palm and the threats are veiled. Here’s the text of what Apple said:

Apple designs the hardware and software to provide seamless integration of the iPhone and iPod with iTunes, the iTunes Store, and tens of thousands of apps on the App Store. 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.

Palm may see one of the prime selling points of the Pre evaporate overnight if Apple makes a change that Palm’s engineers can’t find a way around. Other digital media device makers are also likely to be affected by this kind of change, since Apple’s iTunes content is a kind of defacto standard.

Apple has to tread carefully here, since it can’t make changes just for the sake of shutting out rivals. The Department of Justice doesn’t take kindly these days to anti-competitive behavior. Nor does the European Union, which has forced Microsoft to accommodate third-party browsers and third-party search engines on its Windows operating systems.

Apple is a dominant player in the digital media player market, and as such its behavior will be closely watched by antitrust regulators.

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