Another Thing You Need: 'DRM For Chargers'

from the research-time-well-spent dept

Apple has applied for a patent on what’s basically DRM for gadget chargers, detailing a system that would ensure gadgets can only be charged by certain approved chargers. The idea is that it would be a theft deterrent, since mobile phones, MP3 players and other devices couldn’t be recharged after they’re stolen. While it’s just a patent application and doesn’t mean it will make its way to market anytime soon, the thinking is similar to that which spawned DRM for digital content. Though it’s a different application, the holes in the logic here illustrate quite nicely how DRM and copy protection for don’t stop theft and just get in the way of legitimate consumers. First, the idea that this DRM for chargers would serve as a deterrent to theft is predicated on the idea that the technology won’t be cracked — which is overly optimistic. The technology will be cracked and rendered useless for anti-theft purposes, meaning all it will do then — like every other DRM — is annoy legitimate customers. What happens if you get to work and your MP3 player’s dead? Hopefully you’ve got a pre-approved spare charger there, because you won’t be able to use a colleague’s without any hassle. If you lose your phone charger, you’ll have to jump through some sort of hoops to get going with a new one. And just like DRM restricts consumers’ choice of playback devices, this technology could restrict consumers’ ability to use chargers of their choosing, since chargers that don’t feature it wouldn’t work with devices that do. Given Apple’s desire to control and profit from the third-party accessory market for iPods and the like, it seems unlikely that they’d see that as a bad thing.

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Comments on “Another Thing You Need: 'DRM For Chargers'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Couple of questions.

1)I may be wrong but AFAIK drm only applies to digital content. Wouldn’t the “DRM” for chargers be something that should be accomplished (And I don’t agree with this) via stronger patents/copyrights on the devices?

2)Why would apple even want this? It will push new people away from actually wanting their products, and their products have become something of a social-elitist item.

And before you “RTFA” me, I did read both the article and this post, but 2+2 != 22.

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: Well how about this?

Sorry for the blank. I was going to say this:

If I steal your $250 iPod and the approved DRM charger only costs $50 the advantage is steal (see that pun?) mine. I only have have to buy a $50 charger but you are out of $250, $300 if you count the $50 charger that is now a paperweight if you don’t buy another iPod to go with it. Or am I missing somthing here?

And like comment #4 said since this is in the realm of hardware is DRM still a fitting term?

Brian Livingston says:

Re: Prior Art

I have Motorola Razr, the first version out a year and a half ago(?). My friend has a Razr, a newer version he purchased recently. The newer version spits out an error message when my older charger is plugged in. They use the same model battery, that is, in fact, interchangeable between the different Razr models. But the chargers are not interchangeable.

I like the phone, but its the last Moto product for me.

nipseyrussell says:

rape plain and simple
the money that we would all save if all these gadget manufacturers standardized their parts like chargers and headsets, etc (leaving them open to cheap, generic competition) would make up for all these bogus theft losses!
i’m sick and tired of all these crap lock-ins that prevent competition and innovation and cost customers (and producers) an arm and a leg for no added value.
complete drain on the economy

Donald says:

Same concept that printer manufacturers are using

I believe this has more to do with money than theft. This is a hurdle (admittedly small one) for 3rd party ink cartridge manufacturers and corrals the general consumer into buying approved products that are either same brand or a 3rd party brand that passed an expensive certification. Apply the same concept to chargers and you have a bunch of unknowing consumers buying your brands approved charger.

Buzz says:

DRM for everyone!

We should put DRM on our toilets. That way, if someone robs our house and need to take a quick dump, they cannot flush or obtain toilet paper. What about DRM on our toasters? We need to make sure that only one brand of bread is used for the best quality of toast! Perhaps we could have DRM in our watches so it tells the wrong time to anyone but the actual owner. That’ll teach those watch thieves! DRM would also be really nice for my computer chair. I’m the one who paid for it, so I don’t like how just ANYONE can sit in it; DRM makes my life sooo much easier.

ehrichweiss says:

easy way around it..

In todays “green” world, it would be easy enough to prevent this from happening. Start bugging your Congress critters to pass legislation that, ahem, encourages manufacturers to use more universal batteries and chargers to prevent problems with landfills and protect consumers. If a company wants to create their device with a new battery design that requires a new charger, etc. then the manufacturer has to pony up a $100,000,000 “green tax” to “protect the environment”.

Bet a bit of that would change this very quickly.

Chanticrow says:

Alternate idea

Rather than DRMing the charger, why not add a PIN number to the device itself. PIN must be entered prior to charging.

The chargers themselves can be commonized, but a thief can only charge the device if he knows the PIN. This would achieve the same effect and have little detriment to the consumer (other than needing to enter a PIN each time to charge).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Alternate idea

First off that’s just pointless as almost all mobile phones already have the capability to lock them down via pin usage.

Second, mobilephone theft in the UK is a massive problem. The thieves themselves may not be that smart but the guys they sell the phones onto are VERY smart. Often using people who work within the mobilephone sector, and indeed for the mobile networks and manufacturers.

They can bypass pins easily. The UK now blacklists phones across all networks and also uses write once chips to prevent them being easily unlocked. This does not mean they can’t be unlocked it just means it’s a bit harder.

But all of that is for nothing as many mobilephones are shipped abroad where they are unaffected by blacklists.

nem0 (user link) says:

Just Like My Car

Sounds like the Passlock/Passlock II system in GM cars. If your key doesn’t supply the right electrical resistance in the ignition, it locks the fuel system so your car won’t start. Of course, you can get a false-negative if your key is dirty or damp, or if you got a cheap key made at the local hardware store, or if your key’s corroded, or in any number of common situations.

And if the Passlock is triggered? All you can do is wait 10-15 minutes for the system to reset. Hope you weren’t going anywhere important.

The best part is that you can defeat the system by installing the right resistor on the check wire in the steering column. Takes about 15 minutes and less than 50 cents worth of supplies. Thanks, GM!

James says:

At least...

… there is a shred of logic in this argument, as opposed to DRM for music. Still, I’d be hard pressed to buy anything making use of this kind of technology.

Rather than theft it sounds MORE like Apple just wants to find a way to price-fix accessories the way they price-fix iPods; and yet another reason arises never to buy one.

Jazmin says:

Re: Verizon does this

In the past, I’ve bought chargers directly from Motorola online. My Verizon phone came with a quick charger that worked great, but when it died out, all the Verizon store could offer me was a regular wall charger, for sixty bucks.

I was able to buy the exact product that I wanted, the quick charger, for less than thirty dollars, and Motorola even Fedexed it to me for free.

Overcast says:

That idea’s so bad, it’s scary. What kind of idiots are these companies hiring anymore?

Very good point was made above already – that the devices can be locked with a password. My Blackberry times out each 30 min and you have to enter a password to unlock it. Even if it was stolen, they couldn’t really use it.

I have a couple of chargers I use – including just plugging it into my home PC or Laptop via USB, Car charger, or regular charger.

So… what would this really do to help? If they stold the charger, they wouldn’t have any issues… A password on the other hand – even if they steal every accessory, they still can’t use it.

It’s a stupid idea to replace a feature that already works better and offers more security.

Zorlak says:

Huh... Why put the security in the charger?

I think it is a bad idea as well. Sounds like a way to make specialized profits.

One thought is that maybe the industry should give you an option in your gadgets software. For example, on my phone, it might be cool to have an option to enable “charge security”. In which, you plug in your standard charger, and if the charger security option is enabled you get prompted to put in a pin or password to start charging the device. Don’t make it enabled by default, let the end users choose if they want that security or not. Help stop theft and loss of personal information for those who desire.

Buzz says:


So, not only are we all file-sharing pirates, we are incompetent owners of possessions. Did customers write into these companies and request these features because “theft is a big problem”? I highly doubt it. Once again, the anti-theft aspect is nothing more than a thick fog used to cover up their true intent.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Cris says:

Maybe the CEO of Sony was on to somthing

All the apple fanboys railed on sonys CEO last week for calling jobs greedy. citing that sony has created numerous products and formats that do not work with anything else in the market. I think Sony learned there greed lesson a few years back and the AVCHD format is proof of that. They worked with Panasonic to create this great format which is heads and tails better than MPEG2. If apple creates one product with this capability i will never buy another apple product again.

Ron (user link) says:

Posts 10 & 16 :-)

I like your ideas…

I didn’t see anyone mention Apples MagSafe adaptors–patented with no current 3rd-party solutions. It really kind of sucks for mobility.

Interesting potential though: anytime a new charger is sold from the stores, the purchaser gives their computer’s serial number which is checked against legitimate/stolen devices. Would probably drive up prices on eBay (buy 5 from Apple because you “lose them”, then sell for twice the price…).

Ah, I’m going back to my non-DRM paperback (that doesn’t require a charger).

Valor says:

Do you guys READ??

Did you even look at the patent application? Nowhere in there did I see at all that the patent was for tying a device to a specific charger.

The patent is for a remotely-triggerd recharge prevention cirtuit so that the device would be useless on ANY charger, including the one that it came with, unless was ‘whitelisted’ to be recharged again.

To comment #2: Possible, but a savvy consumer (I know, that’s asking a lot) would check first, before buying.

Another link to the Ars Technica article:–literally.html

…and Engadget:

actual patent application (NOT linked in the story):

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