UPDATED: iPod shuffle Signaling Apple Switch to Locked-Down Headphones?

UPDATED: ZDNet retorts, and says to chill.

ORIGINAL: iLounge (via Engadget) is reporting that the new iPod shuffle ships with headsets that not only include advanced (read: complicated) on-wire controls, but with lock-down chips that may prevent third parties from making compatible alternatives without ponying up licensing fees to Apple. Whether this is a money grab in exchange for technology Apple has patented and feels they deserve compensation for, or just another internet controversy that ultimately goes nowhere isn't fully understood yet (least not by me!). iLounge says:

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.

When the iPhone 3G came out, there was some noise that the new component and composite video cables that came along with it contained proprietary chips that would prevent 3rd parties from creating cheaper alternatives to the Apple-proper cables.

Launched along with the 2nd generation iPod touch was Apple's new in-ear headset with mic and remote control, allowing music to be started, stopped, and skipped, along with volume to be controlled right on the headset. They worked not only with the iPod touch, but with the new aluminum unibody MacBook family, and to a lesser degree with the iPhone 3G. Was there a proprietary lock-down chip in those headsets?

Either way, are we sharpening our pitchforks and lighting our torches, or waiting to see how this develops before storming the streets of Cupertino?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Around SPE for 15 March, 2009

Next up →

The iPhone Blog Week in Review for March 16, 2009

Reader comments

UPDATED: iPod shuffle Signaling Apple Switch to Locked-Down Headphones?


On the first sentence, you said iPhone shuffle.
Anyway, I can almost guarantee you that Apple wouldn't completely get rid of the scrollwheel in exchange for the headphones. They know better. However, if Apple really is THAT STUPID (which they aren't, except for the friggin' copy and paste on the iPhone), then they'd better be prepared for bankruptcy.

well, i'd hate it if only apple headphones worked on my iPhone/touch, as they, frankly... suck. however the sennheiser headphones bought from the apple store are awesome!
The Sennheiser headphones are amazing, and they have a button on the mic that works the same as the button on the apple headphones. I would have thought that this is the same. I'm pretty sure that the sennhiesoer phones i bought had the "made for iphone logo" so apple mustve made some money from that. I doubt its in their best interest to limit the amount of good stuff for the iphone that folk want to buy.

Meant to actually type out some text as well, but RE5 was calling so sorry for dropping just a link :). Cheers, Rene!

it's amazing how Apple controls the accessories that go with their products, and yet people still swear by their iPods and iPhones. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of them, and it's amazing. I work in a retail store and we carry iPods and accessories for them, and Apple has a stronghold on their resellers too. The iPod display has to be as per Apple's specifications and Apple reps check it. Regularily. If they don't like it, they threaten to pull all Apple products out of our stores, which would result in a 20 million dolls loss in sales. I am just amazed how Apple always is in control, whether it be headphones for iPods or stores selling iPods. Everything just seems to be in their field.

We sell iPods at work. We've gotten some Sennheisers in, which it seems will be compatible. I've no issue with it, provided (better) third party options are availabe.

What's concerning is these type of articles keep appearing. If its not about the app approval process, then its something else. By itself these stories don't mean much. But they're starting to add up.
Apple cannot be this arrogant as the competition catches up. I think Macs will always tend to be "cool" as a minority player in that market. The smartphone arena is different IMO. Apple has the most popular phone. Maintaining that "cool" factor will be harder when everyone down the block has one, but they don't need to keep shooting themselves like this. Apple is a Titanic but even that ship sunk.

As soon as I saw the new shuffle the other day i thought the same thing. the shuffle is not a product that I would purchase but the fact that the headphones are now unique seems to be a bad sign. this is not the first time apple has put a remote on the ipod but the old ones were removable and the ipod would still work without it. Even if it is not a play for more control it seems like it would hurt sales. I don't think anyone would argue that apple makes a quality earphone.

I have to agree with iLounge, this is a nightmare scenario. If this happens to the iPod Nano/Classic/Touch I think then there will be real outrage. The Shuffle is one thing, but I don't think anyone I know uses the Apple ear buds or any Apple branded headphones. I've spent money on nice headphones and if this happens to every iPod then Apple will be shooting themselves in the foot.
Maybe it's time to stock up on the newest model now before everything gets locked down.

I don't think that they are being arrogant, its just a signaling chip, not some kind of DRM lock down conspiracy. Would they like to sell their chip? Sure. Could you very easily reverse engineer a signalling chip that has no (and given the amount of prior art, almost can't possibly) patent attached? Yep. Tempest, meet Teacup. Teacup, this is my good friend Tempest.

Uh, how can you extrapolate 'a media player with no UI that requires a headphone-mounted remote' to 'all ipods and iphones will require special headphones'? Didn't apple specifically remove the inset jack on the iPhone because people complained about it?

the accessories like headphones and earphones for ipods sometimes are really bad like a lot of the earbuds don't fit in my ears! haha. but i did find a site http://www.earbudzstore.com/ that has a lot of good options u guys should check 'em out they're good.