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Apple headphone DRM - what are these people on?

Sometimes, a chap just despairs.Take Apple's latest Shuffle iPod music playing thingy.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Sometimes, a chap just despairs.

Take Apple's latest Shuffle iPod music playing thingy. As everyone on the planet now has at least five MP3 players, Apple has had to come up with various gimmicks to keep selling the things: this one is very, very small.

So small, in fact, that apart from the power/mode switch there's no point in putting any controls on it - it would be like trying foreplay on a ant. So, sensibly, Apple has put the controls on the headphone lead.

This needs a modicum of ingenuity, as a headphone lead and plug/socket doesn't have enough wires to carry the signals from a lot of switches back to the player. Sony solved this on its minidisc players by having each switch connect a different resistance across a single pair of wires; the player measured the resistance and worked out what button was being pressed.

Apple has gone for a different scheme; it's put a chip in the headphones that talks to the player using a signalling protocol. I don't know what that protocol is - there are plenty available, and Apple's certainly not beyond inventing its own. It may even see some profit in flogging chips speaking that protocol to other manufacturers.

But that's as far as Apple's evil scheme probably goes. I am bewildered by the willingness of so many people to start calling this 'DRM'. Apple cannot (please God, there is so much prior art and it is so utterly obvious) have a patent on whatever it is, so there's no reason people can't reverse engineer it if they fancy. I'm sure it'll want to licence its version, and why not - but it's no sin to invent something.

There is a tendency among its proponents to see open-source as the Only True Way, and anything proprietary as clearly and immediately sinful. No, sir, that's not true. There are any number of examples of proprietary systems that are bad, that are used as tools to shut down innovation and close off competition, and Apple most certainly has perpetrated its share. But it's counter-productive to go off the deep end and assume the worst the moment you spot something that you don't understand. Who's going to take you seriously next time?

And with that, I'm off for a couple of weeks' R&R. Without an iPod Shuffle. L8rs...

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