Technical + Business Details On iPod Shuffle 3G’s Remote Chip | iLounge Backstage


Technical + Business Details On iPod Shuffle 3G’s Remote Chip

If you’ve read our review of the third-generation iPod shuffle and editorial on its remote control authentication chip yesterday, you already know that while the EFF was concerned about “DRM” in the chip, our concern was different:

“If you want a pair of headphones that will work to control the new iPod shuffle, you will now have to buy something that Apple either makes itself, or approves—this process has already led to needlessly overpriced video cables and chargers, as well as creating problems for many additional types of accessories that you may or may not have ever heard of.”

A source provided us with some additional insider details on the remote chip that might interest those of you who wanted to know more specifics on what’s going on here.

Internally, Apple has been referring to the chip as a transmitter chip; it is technically a dual-mode modulator that overlays remote control commands on top of the headphone or microphone signal, coupled with a controller in the iPod. According to Apple’s own documentation, the chip gets power from the iPod, then transmits encoded control information to the iPod, which has a controller that receives and decodes the button information. Using the chip, Apple’s microphone-equipped versions of the headset operate in either “button mode” or “tone mode,” sending control commands either as differing voltage levels or as ultrasonic tones ranging from 99 to 300kHz.

This source suggests that the chip can be seen in a positive or negative light. On the positive side, it provides developers access to a new part that Apple could have kept for itself and its own products. On the negative side, to get the chip, a developer is required to sign Apple’s Made For iPod agreement, which has serious consequences: first, Apple must issue its approval in advance for each specific remote controlled headphone product; only afterwards will the developer will be given access to the chips. Next, there are the other MFI issues—the contract (think App Store contract, multiplied), royalties on some product sales, monthly accounting reporting to Apple, and audits, amongst them. All this for an in-line remote control.

These details will be linked to yesterday’s editorial and the original review.

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Even though it’s not EFF worthy as you stated, it does seem a bit much on Apple’s part for a pair of headphones.  I can’t even imagine the strings attached to that “Made For _____” agreement.

One other company this makes me think of is Sony.  I think they’ve started to open up a bit, but I remember not that long ago if you bought a Sony product you could only use Sony made accessories.  Didn’t really bother me though, I just avoided their products which is the same thing people can do with Apple products.

Posted by Justin on March 17, 2009 at 9:56 AM (CDT)


Seems like this is a “mountain out of a mole hill” topic. I’m mean… what’s next?

“Why can’t I change the cover?” “Why can’t I have a different clip design?” “Why do I have to use iTunes?” And so forth, and so on.

It’s a simple, complete package that doesn’t need extras that you’d need with bigger, more complex iPods. I really don’t see the need to berate Apple for such a trivial issue as this.


Posted by D9 on March 17, 2009 at 2:59 PM (CDT)


It’s a friggin fashion accessory. People who know what they want can continue ignoring Apple’s over-hyped over-priced little toys, and laugh at the others, who look at their friend’s new Apple toy and go “Ooohhh, shiny! I want one!”

Posted by AFK on March 17, 2009 at 5:40 PM (CDT)


If a third party company wants to manufacture a controller for the xbox 360 they have to pay Microsoft a licensing fee. How is this different? Shouldn’t we be having a conversation about the broader consumer electronics industry?

Posted by Keith Simmons on March 18, 2009 at 4:42 AM (CDT)


#4: It’s different because it’s headphones.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 18, 2009 at 5:03 AM (CDT)


#5: It’s still a controller too, so the comparison is appropriate. Can’t use XBox without its controller and you can’t use Shuffle without its headphones.

Posted by D9 on March 18, 2009 at 8:32 AM (CDT)


There’s nothing that prevents someone from manufacturing a set of earbuds or switch and not pay Apple anything as long as they don’t say on their package “Made for an iPod”.

I’ve seen lots of cables and other MP3 player accessories sold in New York that simply say their for MP3 players. They simply don’t say which MP3 player they work with although it is quite obvious from the shape of the case or the connector on the cable that it’s for an iPod.

Most manufactures have similar programs. Look at Microsoft’s Windows program that allows manufactures to say their computer is made to run Windows Vista. Look at the old video cassette tapes that said they were VHS format.

In a couple of weeks, they’ll be earphones on the market with embedded controllers, but won’t say their for an iPod Shuffle. They’ll probably have controller cords too. These will be from companies that didn’t pay Apple its licensing fee and didn’t follow Apple’s specification on how these new controllers should work.

My feeling is that the high end earphones won’t cost that much more than the current models (if at all)—maybe an extra $5 or $10. Remember we’re mainly talking about the premium market where earbuds and earphones will cost more than the iPod Shuffle itself.

The cheap earphones (the $10 variety) will simply bypass Apple’s vendor program and still sell for $10.

The question is whether it was worth shrinking the quarter sized iPod Shuffle even more which forced Apple to move the controls to the cord in the first place. I have a feeling that many people will like the convenience of the cord controls since the Shuffle is usually clipped to a belt or another inconvenient place where the controls are hard to reach.

In fact, there is nothing that prevents other MP3 players from being compatible with these controls too. They can’t work quite the same way, but they certainly can use the same controller.

Posted by David W. on March 18, 2009 at 12:21 PM (CDT)


comparing xbox controllers to head phones is like apples and oranges.  Its a third party thing people have been able to buy there own head phones since the portable cassette player.

now apple wants to change that. or get there greedy little hands on other companies profits by the making them use the made for iPod contract

Posted by MB on March 19, 2009 at 2:55 PM (CDT)


Thanks iLounge, I am glad there is at least one place I visit and get the Facts or at least honest reviews (to the best of your ability of course).

Posted by Nox on March 20, 2009 at 11:48 AM (CDT)


“The question is whether it was worth shrinking the quarter sized iPod Shuffle even more which forced Apple to move the controls to the cord in the first place. I have a feeling that many people will like the convenience of the cord controls since the Shuffle is usually clipped to a belt or another inconvenient place where the controls are hard to reach.”

That’s really the point, IMHO.  There was absolutely no reason that Apple had to remove the controls from the player itself.  They could have implemented headphone-based controls, Voiceover and the multiple-playlist support without sacrificing the on-device capabilities.  In fact, if they were concerned about a minimalist approach, the could have reduced the number of buttons on the device down to three (ie, the same three that are on the headphones) and still provided a device that can work with any headphones you plug into it.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 20, 2009 at 1:03 PM (CDT)


It makes me sick to see Apple doing the same stuff that they said was so terrible by Microsoft.

Looking a lot alike at the moment.

Not good. Because now it is for money not art!

Posted by RICK URTEL on March 21, 2009 at 3:05 PM (CDT)


There’re two oft-missed aspects to this:

1. There’s nothing stopping anybody selling *just* the remote control with a headphone jack in the top, so that you can use any pair of headphones you like with it.

2. The Shuffle will work with any pair of headphones you like, it’s just not controllable.

Posted by Mo on March 23, 2009 at 1:39 PM (CDT)


Item #1 is a valid point, and I’m sure we’ll see accessories like this beginning to show up. However, one could also question why Apple themselves is not providing such an accessory… either ideally included with the 3G shuffle or in the very least as an add-on accessory that would have at least been available on launch day.

However, item #2, while technically correct, is unrealistic when you consider that you can’t even control the playback volume, much less start and stop tracks.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 23, 2009 at 2:27 PM (CDT)


This is really not a problem for anyone. There’s no encryption going on, so any other headphones manufacturer is free to reverse-engineer the control protocol Apple is using and spec out their own chip to some fab that can emulate Apple’s, all without having to sign a single contract with Apple, as long as they don’t market it as Made for iPod™. If you want to use Apple’s chip, you have to sign their agreement; if you can design your own, or some fabricator starts selling a compatible chip standard, then you’re not affected by this.

Posted by WiseWeasel on March 23, 2009 at 3:51 PM (CDT)


So how will this work when you want to plug it into a set of speakers?

Posted by E on March 23, 2009 at 7:56 PM (CDT)


#14 That may not be the case; Apple may very well have claimed it illegal to reverse-engineer their protocols and so trying it would end in legal action.

Posted by tman on March 23, 2009 at 8:15 PM (CDT)


Also keep in mind that many of the mainstream headphone manufacturers are already part of the “Made for iPod” program.  There may very well be clauses in that agreement that contractually prevents them from reverse-engineering the chip or using non-Apple parts in the first place.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 23, 2009 at 9:41 PM (CDT)


The sheep defending Apple are amazing. You want to know what is next? DRM blocking the use of any headphone that isn’t approved… It is the obvious next step once the complaints die down with this, and, because they cleverly stuck it to the manufacturers this round (the consumer will never know that they would have had more available headphones and not paid a fee and waited for this generation).

Posted by akatsuki on March 24, 2009 at 10:52 AM (CDT)

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