Last week, several blogs pointed out that the new iPod Shuffle, with the controls moved off the Shuffle and onto the headphones, was "needlessly complex" and "far from cost-effective." But it also turns out the new Shuffle uses DRM to lock out aftermarket accessories that aren’t authorized by Apple, and by "authorized" we mean, "Apple takes a cut of the profits."
This DRM chip can’t legally be reverse-engineered without violating the DMCA. With it, Apple now controls the headphone and adaptor aftermarket for the Shuffle, because you have to have the chip in order to produce an accessory with the necessary control buttons.
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.
So why should you care? iLounge, which first noted the presence of the chip in their review of the product, explains why:
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.
If you think that’s hyperbole, note that this is the second stage in Apple’s DRM chip implementation. They did the same 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.