Why Apple's New iPod Shuffle Isn't Consumer Friendly

Update: It turns out the special chips used in the headphone controls of the third generation Shuffle don’t contain any DRM after all, so any attempts at reverse-engineering won’t bring on the wrath of the DMCA.

Despite that, they’re still not very consumer friendly. DRM or no, moving the controls off of the actual unit and placing them on an accessory increases the potential* cost. (*Obviously if you use the included ear buds, there’s no additional cost.)

This limits any other uses of the Shuffle, for example as a low-cost, portable music player that you’d hook into a home or car stereo. Sure, you can still do that, but you’ll have to pay extra money for an Apple-authorized adapter. By using the DRM chip to restrict third-party headphone/adapter companies, Apple has “updated” the Shuffle line in a way that actually reduces its functionality.

They did a similar thing over a year ago, using DRM chips to block any unauthorized video output devices. Unfortunately, this also actually broke the functionality of any earlier third-party video output accessories with newer iPods, forcing the unwary iPod customer who upgraded to a new model to also “upgrade” to a new accessory, or do without.

If you’re still thinking of buying a Shuffle, consider looking for an older generation model—the 1st-gen plastic white Shuffles produce the best sound, interestingly, and if you like the idea of controls by your head, note that the built-in clip and incredible lightness of the 2nd-gen Shuffle mean you can clip it on your collar just fine. If you buy this new Shuffle, you’re actually buying a device that does less than previous models out of the box, and you’ll have to shell out more money to unlock what used to be built-in functionality.

[This post has been edited since it was first published, to reflect new information about the chips used in the Shuffle.]

“iPod headphones aren´t DRMed, just controlled by a proprietary chip that you have to license” [BoingBoing]
“Apple iPod shuffle (Third-Generation)” [iLounge]
“Apple Adds Still More DRM to iPod Shuffle” [EFF]

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