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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Filed Under: drm
Companies: apple

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  1. identicon
    Bob, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:31am


    It's just a bad idea. It will be a pain in the ass for normal consumers.

    Bad Idea

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Greg, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:34am

    Something tells me that the sort of people going around stealing gadgets don't know or care that they can't recharge the battery, since they're just going to unload the thing at a pawn shop or something.

    This is wholly worthless as a deterrent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    spencermatthewp, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:35am

    reminds me of detachable face car stereos

    You know the ones that cost twice to three times as much to replace the broken face as it would to buy a new radio. If it Costs me $750 to get a new charger for my ipod, I going to shove the thing right up steve's A$$.

    Thanks and have a nice day!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:42am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:42am

    Well how about this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Brent, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:42am

    Prior Art

    Morotola (Verizon?) does this now with the Razor. It won't charge on anything non-approved. (I needed a stupid driver to get the phone to charge off my computer). Plus it won't charge on any wall charger it doesn't like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    nipseyrussell, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:43am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Donald, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:47am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, 25 Jul 2007 @ 8:55am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Just a Thought, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:02am

    Its mine not yours to use

    What if by getting a patent on the process and not use it. Buy owning the patent one would also prevent anyone else from using it as well. Force a DRM-free era since I own but choose not to use it myself or let anyone else use it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Strofcon, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:22am

    Re: Its mine not yours to use

    Clever idea. Certainly sounds very old-school Apple-ish, and it would be nice if that were the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Buzz, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    J, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:40am

    Re: Prior Art

    Maybe you have a newer or older Razor but my girlfriends razor is charged via mini-usb.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:43am

    Re: DRM for everyone!

    I've got! I can even see the commercial for it.

    Ladies, worried that you may be attacked by a stranger while walking home at night? With DRM Panties there's no reason to worry! And now for men we have DRM Boxers! Don't let anyone in your backdoor without your permission.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Andy, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:43am

    So now not only do I have to find the right kind and brand of charging brick to charge my device, I have to find one that is keyed to my device? My Dell laptop can already not be charged by an IBM thinkpad brick, nor can my Sprint phone be charged with my Samsung cord because the device end of the cable is different. Isn't this already a form of DRM?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    ehrichweiss, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:57am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2007 @ 9:57am

    Heh, DRM on electricity. What next?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Chanticrow, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:00am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    keyboard, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:14am

    good idea

    what the hell i say great idea go for it. this will my son from taking my charger everything he loses his!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Charles Griswold, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:32am

    You've got to be kidding.

    The upshot of this is that if you have two cell phones, you wouldn't be able to leave the charger for one at home and the charger for the other at work, then charge either phone at either place. Yes, this sounds exactly like DRM. It's pointless and irritating, without actually accomplishing what was promised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:34am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    nem0, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:41am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    The Man, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:45am

    All about the money

    DRM'ing phone chargers would stop people like me from buying Ebay replacement chargers that cost a fraction of the price that the mobile companies charge. It's just another way for Apple to put a padlock on a share of the market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    James, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:45am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Alexandar Tzanov, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:48am

    Verizon does this

    Verizon does this already, but they DON'T do it for anti-theft reasons, they do it for PROFIT. You can't just get a car or wall charger for $10 - $15, you have to go to their stores and spend $30 and $40 dollars on the exact same product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Mystified, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:52am

    DRM chargers work-around

    I just filed my patent for a universal charger. In addition to being able to provide various voltages to suit the need, it is all in a Linux box that will crack the charging code for any device. Take THAT Apple!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Overcast, 25 Jul 2007 @ 10:57am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Zorlak, 25 Jul 2007 @ 11:01am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Buzz, 25 Jul 2007 @ 11:04am


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Jazmin, 25 Jul 2007 @ 11:05am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Michael Long, 25 Jul 2007 @ 12:27pm

    Questions... and ANSWERS.

    Come on people , you'd think the guys at Apple are idiots. For a much less biased viewpoint that also answers most of the questions and objections made both in the article and in the comments, read the Ars Technica article on the same subject.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    anonymous coward, 25 Jul 2007 @ 1:09pm

    Apple's army of hipster morons were happy to accept DRM on their music purchases, why wouldn't they accept it for everything else?

    Quadruple the price, paint it white and call it an iCharger and the mindless hordes will wait in line for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Michael Long, 25 Jul 2007 @ 1:15pm

    Read the Ars Technica article.

    It answers most of the questions, comments, and objections, unlike the techdirt post. owerless--literally.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Brian Livingston, 25 Jul 2007 @ 1:42pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    SeattleGuy, 25 Jul 2007 @ 2:29pm


    So, the iPod/iPhone crowd accepts that living on the bleeding edge of technology brings restrictions. I don't cater to that balderdash. I don't own an iPod and don't have any DRM'd music on my computer.

    Am I missing out on much? I think not.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Cris, 25 Jul 2007 @ 2:41pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Ron, 25 Jul 2007 @ 2:44pm

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Matt, 25 Jul 2007 @ 3:20pm

    Motorola Already Does This

    I have a Verizon Razr and it can only be charged with Motorola Brand chargers, otherwise it gives you a message "unauthorized charger". I've tried my camera cable (both are mini-B plugs) but only approved motorola ones will work, which can cost $25-$30 at the Verizon store.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    satan, 25 Jul 2007 @ 4:16pm

    Fuck Apple

    Let them shoot themselves in the foot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Paul, 25 Jul 2007 @ 6:25pm

    Not the Q

    My Motorola Q charges on any USB cable.

    Sorry to hear about your razr :(

    Does it also not "sync" with the motorola mobile kit and any generic USB cable?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Michael Bonanno, 27 Jul 2007 @ 8:43am

    It Might not be a bad idea

    My ipod just got stolen, so I'm in a vulnerable state right now, but this certainly would make an iPod with no charger much less valuable on ebay, even though the crackhead that originally steals it isn't likely to know any better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Valor, 2 Aug 2007 @ 10:34am

    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: powerless--literally.html

    ...and Engadget:

    actual patent application (NOT linked in the story): mp;u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220070138999%22.PGNR.&OS =DN/20070138999&RS=DN/20070138999

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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