How a digital-only smartphone opens the door to DRM (and how to close the door)

shhhh… you’re harshing cory’s anti-apple boner.


The only problem represented with that picture is power. In the first one the green is the phone which obviously gets its power from the battery. The digital setup has the DAC/amp powered by nothing which obviously doesn’t work. Sure in a bluetooth configuration it’s fine, but I’m quite happy with my corded setup. Besides would this mean the end of the Apple white ear buds or would they go wireless as well?

Power was just assumed on my part (I made the diagram). There’s no real difference in the setup but layout, and additional compromises mean moving the DAC/amp away from the mainboard to where it’s more vulnerable to failure, more likely to be compromised in quality, adding more bulk to headphones and so on. It’s a bullshit move on Apple’s part.


Cory, are you really not aware that Apple removed DRM from all their music on iTunes years ago after fighting the Music Industry for years to do that?

Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan asked me to explain what could happen if Apple went through with its rumored plans to ship a phone with no analog sound outputs, only digital ones – what kind of DRM badness might we expect to emerge?

Next from Mark Sullivan:

"Dear Pope Francis, 

If the world accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts, what kind of change would we see?:
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I can see how getting rid of an analog output could pave the way to DRM (right now deactivating analog output for certain media would affect too many users; when most of them have DRM enabled headphones, this could change). But I see no indication whatsoever that Apple is planing on doing so. I think a fair article should highlight that (it’s like suggesting that increasing gun control would “open the door” for the government to suppress its people without offering any other indication that they might want to do so.)

Remember blue-ray? It is often cited that one of the main reasons Apple doesn’t include blue-ray capabilities into their products is because the DRM would be too invasive. They would need to change the operating system so it wasn’t possible anymore to record the screen in certain situations, which they weren’t interested in doing.

Apple already negotiated the music industry out of DRM. What exactly could the music industry offer in return for Apple to give in again?

And lastly, hardly anybody does analog copies of music anymore since the late 90ies. iOS supports USB audio adapters which still could be used to make lossless digital copies, if anyone wanted to.

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What are they? Honest question.


Citations please (that all who listen to music on iPhone do so wirelessly and that a majority of Apple customers want analog out to disappear). Millions of wired headphones sold annually. I am not looking forward to more points of hassle and failure in what should be a simple system. I listen to music with wired headphones for sound quality/no extra batteries, protocols, connections, incompatibility, hassle. More technology should be justified with some type of benefit. But more importantly, if it works well, and everyone has the options they need at the moment already, I’ll stay skeptical.


It’s pretty easy to Google, but here you go anyway.

Randell monroe seems to see the trend going the other way.

Digital only outputs just open up the possibility of an equivalent to HDCP for audio devices, which doesn’t make sense if the file itself is DRM free. And the DRM free nature of modern music sales is because of public pressure for what Cory describes to not happen, not because people could just bypass it with the analog hole.

The thing everyone seems to keep missing about that NPD report is that bluetooth headphones accounted for the majority of dollar sales, not unit sales, which seems like an easy enough thing to accomplish when bluetooth headphones run $50-$250 each, while I can get a 5-pack of in-ear wired headphones for like $30. Looking at unit sales, bluetooth headphones only accounted for 17% of the market. The overwhelming majority of people are still buying wired, 3.5mm jack headphones.


As an aside, I’m not sure music roared into the 21st century. I’d say it limped, battered into the 21st century.

Right, but even then there is an analog signal coming out of the DAC to drive the speakers.

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Yeah, but then you have to start modifying the headphones to record audio, which apart from being seen as black magic by the sort of people who have these ideas (“We put a Warranty Void sticker on it! They can’t get through that!”) would still leave you without the analog signal designed to convey the audio between appliances and leave you only with the final waveform specifically for the speakers, which would likely yield lower quality rips. Of course, all of this ignores the part where the weakest link in the hypothetical DRM chain is the fact that the upstream audio file itself isn’t DRMed in the first place, and the fact that, as nasty as the RIAA are about things like ContentID, even they can appreciate the fact that their profits improved rather than plummeted since that change.

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I’m unaware of a DAC that outputs waveforms specifically designed to output to a speaker type.

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