Just when you thought that DRM was on its way out, with various music stores abolishing the practice, some company will implement DRM in yet another way that will affect lots of customers in a very negative way. The most recent case of idiotic DRM comes courtesy of a gadget maker from Cupertino. Update: MacWorld provides nuance to the story, with comments from Apple and third-party manufacturers.
Last week, Apple released a new iPod Shuffle. While the device has been very well received by reviewers, it quickly became obvious that the only headphones that worked properly with the device are the ones Apple ships alongside with it. Any other headphone is useless, as you won’t be able to control the device in any way (other than the off-switch, that is) – no volume control, no next/previous, no play/stop. If you have an older third-party headphone, you won’t be able to use it.
Normally, third-party manufacturers would reverse-engineer the controls and come up with headphones quite quickly. This time, however, Apple has a very nasty and dirty trick up its sleeve: the new iPod Shuffle actually contains a DRM chip. Yes, Apple’s simplest music player has a DRM chip that forces you to buy headphones pre-approved by Apple.
iLounge were the ones who found this out, and they have more bad news. There aren’t any third-party headphones or remote controls yet that work with the authentication chip in the Shuffle, although a few have been announced at relatively hefty pricetags. As iLounge notes:
This is, in short, a nightmare scenario for long-time iPod fans: are we entering a world in which Apple controls and taxes literally every piece of the iPod purchase from headphones to chargers, jacking up their prices, forcing customers to re-purchase things they already own, while making only marginal improvements in their functionality? It’s a shame, and one that consumers should feel empowered to fight.
iLounge is also afraid that this might set the tone for future iPod products coming in 2009. I’m usually not the one to complain about DRM, mostly because the usually trumpeted cases don’t affect anyone (Windows Vista and 7), but this case clearly is a new all-time low.