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Media (Apple) Businesses Media Apple

Give iPod Thieves an Unchargeable Brick 338

Svippy writes "Apple has patented a technology for new generations of iPods that would detect when a user tries to operate the iPod on an unauthorised machine ... and will refuse to charge. Indefinitely. From the article: 'Every portable gadget with a rechargeable battery has a charging circuit that recognises when the external mains charger has been plugged in. It then manages the transfer of current to the battery. Apple's patent suggests that by attaching a "guardian circuit" to the charging circuit, it would be possible to block the charging process. When a device is plugged into an unauthorised computer, software would compare a security code in the device to a code buried in the software in the computer. Apple already employs a similar technology to "pair" iPods to iTunes running on a specific Mac or PC. If the codes do not match, then the guardian circuit could be triggered to prevent any further charging.'"
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Give iPod Thieves an Unchargeable Brick

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  • False positives (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sleekware ( 1109351 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:25PM (#20015807)
    I can imagine this will raise a lot of false positives. It reminds me of Windows Genuine Advantage, only nastier...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why would you need "authorization" just to charge your iPod on any box, I wonder.
      • Why would you need "authorization" just to charge your iPod on any box, I wonder.

        I can think of multile ways this could be implemented.
        option 1) the ipod requires you to enter a password to charge or access it on a "foreign" computer. Not sure why charging matters here however.

        option 2) the ipod simply won't charge on a foreign computer IF you opt-in to that feature. One would make that default off. But if enough people used that aspect, it might become a theft deterrent. plus it's something that could be enabled later on, even if there's no great ipod crime wave right now, and thu

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 )
      Well sorta. But how well it works makes a big difference, doesn't it?

      They've already got this in place to protect DRM'd music bought through the iTunes store, and as far as I can see it works perfectly well. You don't have to run around finding any little faux-stock-certificates, you don't have to call up an Apple representative and provide a justification for what you are doing. The Apple system is simple, permissive, and reasonably fool proof provided you have an email account that you can rely upon.
      • False patent (Score:5, Informative)

        by pegr ( 46683 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:02PM (#20016407) Homepage Journal
        Patent? Prior art. Heck, my Verizon Razr has been doing this since day one. I have to load a special driver to get it to charge from my laptop's USB port. Without it, the screen just says "Unauthorized Charger"... It rejects any charger it didn't come with, even other Motorola chargers. Forget 3rd party devices. Bastards...

        Oh, yeah, Apple, um, good luck with that...
        • Prior art? You can't patent an idea. It's entirely possible, and likely, that Apple has patented a novel implementation of this.
    • Neo1973 (Score:2, Interesting)

      Slightly off topic, but once the new linux smartphone Neo1973 is available (and has python), i thought a nice security feature would be to upload an encrypted gps coordinate every hour or so, therefore if your phone gets lost or stolen, chances are it wont have been switched off before it gets back to someone's house. This is why python + mobile phones can only be a good idea :) I'm not sure if this is going to go in as a reply to another topics or not, i could not find out how to make a fresh thread (firs
    • If Apple goes thru with this, it guarantees that I will NOT buy an IPod when my current one dies (hello Zune?). I charge my IPod at work on my Sun desktop and in my car thru my car charger, neither of which runs ITunes. Even if by some miraculous reason Apple releases a Solaris version of ITunes, it will not get installed on my work desktop. This is the stupidest idea to come out of Apple in a long time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dephex Twin ( 416238 )
        I like how you mention the Zune like that's going to make Apple jealous. "I can't believe you'd go out with that slut!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by donaldm ( 919619 )
      If this is designed to stop thieves then it is a poor way of doing it since it is going to inconvenience legitimate purchasers. Basically a thief will steal the ipod and sell it to some sucker in the pub rather than keep it. If you use the IMEI code in a mobile as an analogy it is actually possible to change the number (try using Google with "imei unlock" - you will get over a million hits) however the average thief does not have the facilities to do this so he will sell the mobile as soon as possible.

  • by Applekid ( 993327 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:25PM (#20015813)

    Give iPod Thieves an Unchargeable Brick
    Can't I just keep the ipod and give them a brick painted as an iPod like the P-P-P-Powerbook [zug.com] instead?
    • Re:Bricks anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DF5JT ( 589002 ) <slashdot@bloatware.de> on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:25PM (#20017901) Homepage
      > Can't I just keep the ipod and give them a brick painted as an iPod like the P-P-P-Powerbook instead?

      Very funny indeed. You did follow that link, didn't you?


      3) Finally, and most disturbingly, Jeff was not heard from again. I personally e-mailed him for permission to run his story on ZUG, but after an initial response, I never heard from him again. All of his Web sites have come down, and he is nowhere to be found.

  • by Paxton ( 24233 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:26PM (#20015827)
    ... if car chargers won't work.
  • by notoriousE ( 723905 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:27PM (#20015847) Homepage
    An ipod is plugged into an unauthorized computer and all of a sudden dozens of crappy songs are downloaded to it... songs that no one wants to hear like

    Freeze Frame by J Geils Band

    or wannabe by the spice girls

    or wake me up before you go go by wham

    mmmbop by hanson

    you know, horrible stuff like that --- i know if i were a thief the idea of horrible music would deter me
    • by metlin ( 258108 )
      And here I thought that the kind of people that wanted an iPod were the kind that listened to *exactly* that kind of music! ;-)
  • Not the only use (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:28PM (#20015857) Journal
    I'm sure the usefulness of this technology in other areas has been considered as well. Specifically, things like bricking a device because a subscription has run out, or disabling it because DRM rights have been violated. After all, once the hardware is in place, it can be used for other purposes by simple software "upgrades".

    Dan East
  • by Filter ( 6719 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:28PM (#20015865)
    Hide [hideapod.com] it in a Zune.
  • Great... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Radon360 ( 951529 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:28PM (#20015869)

    Finally a digital device that will go on an energy hunger strike if it doesn't like its connectivity situation.

    So, would this make the iPhone the Gandhi of portable devices?

  • Bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:29PM (#20015871)
    I've recharged friends' iPods on my computer (which is obviously not authorized for that iPod). If that were to result in bricking the iPod, I'd be pissed.

    Unbricking the iPod when it's connected to an authorized computer would mitigate, but not solve, the problem.
  • PRM (Score:5, Funny)

    by MontyApollo ( 849862 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:29PM (#20015879)
    PRM...Physical Rights Management...
  • Thieves? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by muellerr1 ( 868578 )
    This may be marketed as a theft-deterrent, but it's also enabling Apple to exert more control over when and how you listen to your own music. This would also make it very easy for Apple to brick your iPod for doing something they don't approve of. Not that I'm saying they'd abuse that power that way, but it would be technically possible.
    • Which is why I've stuck with my old Shuffle despite it's new cousin coming out...there is always a sweet spot where a technology works great and is relatively bug free, and the company hasn't started fully taking advantage of it yet, get in to early and deal with bugs, too late and deal with 'protection' from the company...
  • by metlin ( 258108 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:30PM (#20015883) Journal
    I've already had hell with the ridiculous interface of iTunes and trying to sync my music across more than one machine (work + home + notebook).

    Now, on top of everything, it's going to refuse to charge unless I show that I am the owner on all three? Or maybe, I can only charge it on one?

    Either way, this is only making a bad problem worse.

    Bad enough that iTunes has more than once destroyed my music backup because I tried added music from another machine. Now it's also going to not let me use my iPod?

    Nice. And here I thought Apple was about usability.
  • Honestly, how long would it take for someone to find a way around this and post it on the internet? I'm not saying it isn't a good idea -- kind of a DRM for the device-owner instead of the content-owner, for a change. Still, I can't see it working as a deterrent to theives for all that long.
    • Exactly. This will do exactly what DRM does: punish some legitimate users and be cracked by anyone with a little bit of know-how. Why isn't this fact obvious to everyone?

      How about not walking through dark alleys flashing your iPod? How about not leaving it in your parked car in plain sight? In other words, this is not the way to deter theft.
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:34PM (#20015971) Homepage
    I've got an external USB charger I use when I'm traveling, would they decide my iPod needs to die if I used it?

    All I want to be able to do is charge my friggin' iPod when I'm away from home. I don't think Apple should be deciding where I can charge my iPod -- what damage to them if I use a different machine to *charge* the damned thing.

    I mean, it's not like you can extract songs from an iPod readily. (At least, not such that I've seen). This just sounds like really dumb functionality.
    • AFAIK, charging alone wouldn't brick an iPod - syncing would. If you synced your iPod with an unfamiliar (to it) version of iTunes, the charging circuit would effectively self-destruct.

      Yet another reason why I have no plans to buy an iPod...
    • by arminw ( 717974 )
      ...... I don't think Apple should be deciding where I can charge my iPod ........

      They wouldn't as long as you are the legal owner. Only after a thief plugs it into another computer to sync/charge it, would the ipod be locked. If you, as the rightful owner plugged into your computer, it would automatically be unlocked. As long as it is unlocked, it would work with any charger, but not with an unauthorized computer. A thief couldn't sync the iPod or charge it on another computer. They could charge it and play
  • by FunkyELF ( 609131 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:35PM (#20015977)
    I could see not letting iTunes do anything with it on an unauthorized computer, but charging? What bout all the other non-computer things that charge iPods now-a-days like car kits or plain old usb power adapters that go into wall sockets.

    My girlfriend has a car charger, a wall charger, and an iHome which all charge her iPod.
    • Yeah, the hardest part about implementing this would be recognizing non-computer charging devices in legitimate cases. If the cutoff circuitry is in the iPod itself, that means each "dumb" charger would need to have electronics capable of providing identification. If this were not the case (and it would be very impractical), your point would be very much in effect. This is certainly just another case of a company filing a patent to protect an idea, not one they necessarily plan to take to market.
    • The authorization doesn't have to be embedded in each and every charging device, only in computers. The iPod can remember the last computer it was plugged into (because, you know, it has flash or a hard disk), and will work with 3rd-party chargers provided the last computer was valid.

      In other words, the thieves can listen to YOUR playlists all they want, recharging with a car or AC adapter. When they plug it into a computer, it will stop charging, and not start again with any charger until factory reset o
  • *IF* the owner of the device, using some sort of key or password, had complete control of which computers were 'authorized', this might be a great way to discourage theft of iPods.

    Obviously, if the owner did not have control, then it is utter crap user-hostile technology.
  • great idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brunascle ( 994197 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:35PM (#20015989)
    uh oh, your PC stopped booting? congratulations, you iPod just did too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FauxPasIII ( 75900 )
      > uh oh, your PC stopped booting? congratulations, you iPod just did too.

      Oh well, off to the Apple store to buy a new computer, a new iPod, and then to iTunes to buy all my music again...

      Sorry, what was the downside of this for Apple?
  • Is it true that iPods can only pair up with one computer? I don't have one but this seems like a pretty hard limitation, if true.

    So what do you do if you have a work AND home computer? You can only synch on one?

    I am so confused.
    • When you connect your iPod to a different computer, it pops up saying that it is synced with a different computer. I believe it also asks if you want to pair it with the current computer, or just leave it paired with the other computer, just allowing you to sync more music and video to it, not the personal contacts and stuff.
  • by BigCanOfTuna ( 541234 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:38PM (#20016015)
    ...the thief only wanted my $250 iPod, but took my $3000 MacBook Pro to make it work.
  • Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GoodbyeBlueSky1 ( 176887 ) <joeXbanks@@@hotmail...com> on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:39PM (#20016041)
    What about the (old-fashioned!) method of charging via wall-outlet? Do I have to register my apartment with Apple now?

    Something in this article seems fishy and I don't think we're getting the full story of Apple's intentions, because the whole thing makes zero sense to me.
  • This is very useful for a myriad of devices that connects to the internet. The device in question (ex. ipod, laptop) is a total slave in the sense that rogue devices will have a temporary impact.

    RIAA members are probably quite satisfied with it. It's conceivable that governments would be pleased as well.
  • I've learned that if you plug a USB socket into the Firewire plug on your motherboard, any subsequently connected USB iPod is then "secured" against further updates. Interesting noises are included as the internal protection circuit is established.

    You can still charge it.
  • Your iPhone gets stolen, you report it. The next time the iPhone connects to the network it get a notification that it's stolen. Next time you sync to iTunes, it reports its IP, location (in a future GPS enabled version), something.

    Deploy RDF forces and, wham!, Voldermort is spanked by Darth Vader!

    Or did I just mix to many metaphors at the end? (I still think my first idea is ok, though)
  • would be if an iPod had an optional lock code that on first sync would be entered and subsequently remembered....no code, no charge. Oh, and just make sure external chargers would work too...I know that would be a way around not having any battery, but one set of tracks gets pretty damned boring after a while
  • The iPhone can _maybe_ benefit from something like this, but not the iPod. The iPhone has personal information (maybe), but really it does not make sense for either device. Why is it the treat their customer as thieves a,s the solution to 'thieves.'
  • So what happens when your power adapter breaks? [appledefects.com]
  • by TrebleJunkie ( 208060 ) <ezahurak@at l a n ticbb.net> on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:45PM (#20016137) Homepage Journal
    Anyone with a soldering iron and a little time on their hands would likely be able to bypass this. You've got to have a battery somewhere, and you've got to have leads to that battery.

    Yeah, it means cracking open the device, but if you've stolen it, there's a good chance you're not going to care all that much about some pry marking on the case.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It is interesting that Apple products' aesthetics seem to be a much better deterrent to tinkering inside the case than "YOUR WARRANTY AND LIFE ARE VOID IF YOU REMOVE THIS STICKER"...
  • by Sciros ( 986030 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:46PM (#20016155) Journal
    I fully expect Microsoft to counter this pansy-ass display of "user protection" with the PROPER way of doing it -- if someone plugs the Zune into an unauthorized computer, the Zune explodes. KABLAMO! It'll be like Blade's sword, only with less bad acting.

    Anyway like a bunch of people have already said, this is probably going to anger a lot more people than it's going to make happy (as far as consumers go). I for one would rather *not* have my device have a feature like "if you hook this up to the "wrong" machine, it's forever forfeit."

    Not to mention this won't act as a deterrent for thieves worth crap.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:47PM (#20016167) Journal
    There are dozens of vendors like belkin selling simple chargers for iPods without using the USB ports. So they all wont be able to charge iPods? Apple can at best thwart iTunes/iPod link on devices reported to be stolen. But preventing charging? Nah.
    • If they attempt to connect the iPod to a computer it isn't paired with, the circuit can activate and prevent charging by any means at any later date.
  • this is horrible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SolusSD ( 680489 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:47PM (#20016169) Homepage
    can you imagine the consumer outcry when thousands of iPod owners can't get their iPods to turn on simply because they didn't understand the concept of pairing their iPod with their machine?
  • Say I have my music library stored on a large hard drive in a desktop. But I go on vacation and take my laptop, and try to charge my ipod from the laptop via the USB cable because that's smaller than the wall-wart? Is my own laptop recognized as a different PC and does that lock me out of my own ipod? Maybe I'm at a friend's house and want to charge up my ipod before we go on a long bike ride or run together, and I left my own authorized laptop at home? He has a USB cable but not a wall wart. Does his compu
  • by wiresquire ( 457486 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:50PM (#20016213) Journal
    What a great way to stop people selling their iPods to someone else and instantly making 2nd hand market for iPods impossible!

    1. The device is 'attached' to a particular person's computer(s)
    2. The device and user is known to the manufacturer, eg via iTunes
    3. As the iPod can be effectively rendered useless if someone else buys or uses it, you can't buy one 2nd hand, so you have to fork out for a new one.
    4. Profit!

    I suggest buying AAPL immediately!
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday July 27, 2007 @04:51PM (#20016235) Homepage Journal
    that this is a patent, not an implementation.

  • Otherwise should your charger break, you're screwed. There has to be some sort of unlock mechanism available for legitimate times when using another charger/computer is needed ("oops, I dropped my charger/laptop in the bath"). Of course that means there'd be a way around the lock mechanism. Which means it will be cracked. Which essentially renders it pointless to all but the Google-impaired.
  • That is what everyone is wondering about. But I'm thinking that there could be a pass phrase or something to unlock the iPod to any computer, so that it isn't accidentally locked and can't be undone. Now, if it gets locked, thats when no charger will work until you plug it into a computer and put in the correct pass phrase to undo the no charging. I would see that working and helping to keep theft down.
  • Just what are you expecting here? That when the thief discovers that this is a 'new unchargable' iPod that he's going to return it to you? He'll toss it away, or sell it for less to a hack shop. Either way, you'll never see your iPod again, so how have you benefited?
    • Well initially it wouldn't change anything. But as thieves learn that the resale value of an iPod is essentialy $0 because it can't be recharged, then theft will go down. Of course, it doesn't stop someone from taking it just because they're an asshole and just want to take something from you. But it does stop the thief who's looking for money.
  • The summary makes it seems like this technology is "patented." Apple hasn't patented this yet, they only filed a patent application which was recently published (US 20070138999). It will probably be years before the U.S. Patent Office even exams this application to determine if a patent should be granted.
  • Has anyone actually tried to get out of their contract with At&t after getting an Iphone yet? Will it still work as an Ipod after the sim card is deactivated? How long till someone hacks the software and starts holding people's Iphone's hostage for a fee?
  • if I sell my iPod to someone, or if I buy a used iPod off someone on Craigslist, eBay, etc.?

    Call me a cynic, but maybe Apple wants to prevent the resale of iPods also, thus more $$$ for them.
  • Er, Stupid idea? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geoff lane ( 93738 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:01PM (#20016395)
    Concider the failure modes of such a scheme. Apart from the ones where the thief gets to use the iPod, they all result in the legitimate user losing the use of their iPod.
  • It quickly would turn into a prank you play at parties, school and college. Casually plug your friend's iPod in a nearby computer.

    "Hahaha, I bricked your iPod FOREVER. LOLFMAOBBQ".

    I'm sure it'll be very funny.
  • Make it so you need to enter a password (or a combination of buttons) everytime you charge it. Now the user will always remember the password and if it get stolen it will only be good for a few hours.
  • It sounds like a useful idea. I would imagine that it would be an option you have to explicitly enable. When you are away from the authorized computer, a simple password to charge on a guest machine running iTunes would be enough. If you wanted to use a dumb charger like a car kit then you could just give it a preset number of charges before you need to auth it again on your computer.
  • Apple has patented a technology for new generations of iPods that would detect when a user tries to operate the iPod on an unauthorised machine ... and will refuse to charge. Indefinitely. - do they name the new tech iBrick?
  • What if you were travelling on buisness and wanted to recharge your personal ipod but your own PC was at home? Now you couldn't plug your Ipod into your work-supplied laptop without turning into a brick.
  • When I first got my iPod, I thought this would be a pretty good theft deterrent for iPods.

    iPods are linked to specific iTunes Music Libraries. If you want to move it to a different computer, you have to wipe it clean and link it to the library on the new computer.

    I thought, hey, why not take it one step further. If you're already linking your iPod to a specific music library, why not have iTunes register the iPod's serial number with Apple. Then, if your iPod gets stolen, you can use iTunes on

  • Yet another way for Apple to screw their customers on overpriced batteries and service.
  • To catch an iPod or iPhone thief (and thereby prevent many thefts, if this is made well known), I think Apple should do this: Modify iTunes so that it sends to Apple the s/n of any connected iPod or iPhone. If stolen, the victim sends Apple a copy of the police report. Apple then puts that s/n on its watch list, and the next time the stolen iWhatever announces itself, Apple sends the IP# of the machine it is connected to to the police dept where the report was made. It may cost Apple an employee or two to

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