tiny chip creates big rumor

Twitter was abuzz last night with a discussion of Apple creating DRM into the new iPhone Shuffle headphones and requiring license fees for all third party headphones for all devices going forward. Whew.

It all started it seems with this from iLounge, said as part of their review.

Because of what Apple has done here—something sneaky and arguably terrible for consumers, especially if it continues with other iPod and iPhone products in 2009—if you plug your old third-party headphones of any sort into the new shuffle, you’ll find that you can’t do anything with the device other than have it continuously play music, without volume controls or interruption, unless of course of you turn it off. Surprise: the only third-party headphones that will work are ones that haven’t even entered manufacturing yet, because they’ll need to contain yet another new Apple authentication chip, which will add to their price.

This led to Joel Johnson doing his own tear down and noted

You’d never guess it was there—a tiny chip, barely a millimeter square, hidden inside the headphone module on the third-gen iPod shuffle. If you dismantle the module itself, you still won’t see it: it’s underneath a board containing a few simple copper traces, itself minuscule, and glued to the plastic.

Of course, it’s not clear what this chip does, why it’s there or if Apple is going to charge any license fees. Joel speculates

By adding such a chip to headphones, Apple could force third-party manufacturers to pay fees to make headphones for its iPod Shuffle—after all, the device has no controls, so normal headphones are useless.

At this point, it simply went from observation and speculation to fact and Engadget ran this headline.

Third-party iPod shuffle headphones will require Apple-licensed authentication chip

Sigh, it looks like Apple’s habit of squeezing iPod accessory manufacturers for license fees has now extended to freaking headphones — iLounge is reporting that the new iPod shuffle can only be controlled by headphones with a special hardware authentication chip. That means that third parties will have to pay Apple for the privilege of making shuffle-compatible accessories, and you can bet they’ll just pass that cost right on to consumers — we wouldn’t expect any cheap headphone adapters or inexpensive replacement headphones for the littlest iPod. iLounge calls this a "nightmare scenario" for iPod fans, and we’re inclined to agree — it’s one thing for Apple to require the Made For iPod certification for accessories that interface with the dock connector, but trying to lock down headphones is a sad new low, and it makes the lack of physical controls on the shuffle seem even more ridiculous. Anyone still planning on buying this thing?

I find this all interesting except for the fact that it seems that no one has confirmed any of this with Apple as accurate. All we know that there’s some sort of chip in the new Shuffle headphones, a device designed to work with headphones as the controller. Extrapolation beyond this may all be accurate but it might all be wrong. What’s troubling is the definitive and alarmist tone that folks have taken without verifying what’s what. Certainly no third parties have announced they’re paying an licensing fees, It’s one thing to observe, another to speculate and something else to offer information as fact.

for me? Once it’s clear what’s going on here, i’ll offer my perspective on what it means to the market.

UPDATE Dan Frakes notes that some vendors have anonymously confirmed…. something.

iPod-accessory vendors V-moda and Scosche, as well as other vendors speaking to Macworld anonymously, have confirmed these reports, though some are calling the circuitry a “control chip” rather than an authentication chip.

That actually makes sense as part of the iPod, namely the controller is now part of the headphone. Still no word on Apple confirmation or a source on record as to what’s really going on here. Let the rumors continue…

UPDATE – Apple confirms

An Apple spokesman confirmed the presence of the chip to Macworld. "As part of the Made for iPod program, we make sure that third party headphones work properly with the third generation iPod shuffle," the spokesman said.

My Bottom Line? It’s still not clear what, if anything Apple’s charging for. What is clear is that the headphones are no longer just headphones in the new world of the Shuffle, the headphones are an integral control aspect. As with the license fees for the dock connector, it’s not a surprise that Apple is exerting control over this part of the experience, I suspect for most users it won’t be an issue. As always, the market will decide if this is OK or not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s