Even as it attacks DRM on music, Apple is continuing to add more DRM to its own hardware (we recently documented all of Apple's various hardware DRM restrictions). The latest example is the new iPod Shuffle. According to the careful reviewers at iLounge, third-party headphone makers will have to use yet-another Apple "authentication chip" if they want to interoperate with the new Shuffle.
Normally, of course, independent headphone makers could simply reverse engineer the interface. The "authentication chip" is there so that Apple's lawyers can invoke the DMCA to block those efforts. So this shows us, yet again, what DRM is for -- not stopping piracy, but rather impeding competition and innovation. [See below: Apple subsequently denied any authentication features.]
iLounge sums up what this means for consumers:
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.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
One final thought: why have so many of the reviews of iPods failed to notice the proliferation of these Apple "authentication chips"? If it were Microsoft demanding that computer peripherals all include Microsoft "authentication chips" in order to work with Windows (or Toyota or Ford doing the same for replacement parts), I'd think reviewers would be screaming about it.
UPDATE: iLounge has posted an editorial confirming its reporting on the authentication chip for 3G Shuffle and suggesting that the reluctance of many reviewers to cover these kinds of issues may be the result of a very specific Apple policy:
Apple has now decided to “punish” buzzkillers—journalists who the company doesn’t consider friendly enough to its marketing mission. And by “punish,” we mean to say that this specific word is used to refer to what happens if someone has said something Apple doesn’t approve of. ... And Apple’s upset because we’ve been telling our readers too much—and constantly taking your side, rather than Apple’s, whenever the company is in the wrong. We do this proudly. And we’re not going to apologize for it."
Thanks, iLounge, keep it up.
UPDATE 2: BoingBoing Gadgets is now reporting that Apple has said that "there is no encryption or authentication on the chip, so clones could conceivably be made, just not with "Made for iPod" official certification." If that's right, then I was wrong about the DMCA angle on this story, misled by the term "authentication chip" used in the original iLounge report, as well as Apple's previous "authentication chips" in various iPod dock products.
UPDATE 3: Both Monster Cable and V-Moda are also confirming that there is no authentication requirement for headphones for the new Shuffle. So it looks like there's no DMCA threat here, after all, unlike with jailbreaking your iPhone or talking about syncing your iPod with software other than iTunes.