Apple declares war on sneaker hackers

It was painful to watch, at Apple’s big media event on Monday, Steve Jobs attempting to pawn off a retread music-recommendation system as some sort of great technological breakthrough. Yes, iTunes will now be able to suggest songs you might like based on what you and other like-eared users listen to. Wow. That’s so 2002. And the company even has the gumption to call the feature Genius. A better name, if the experiences of early users are any guide, would have been Halfwit.

But that’s nothing. Today, reports New Scientist, Apple has applied for a patent to – no joke – extend digital rights management to tennis shoes and other articles of clothing. “What is desired,” the patent application says, “is a method of electronically pairing a sensor and an authorized garment.” It continues:

As used herein an authorized garment is a garment sanctioned to be electronically paired with an authenticated (i.e., certified) sensor. Once the garment and sensor are electronically paired, the sensor can receive (and in some cases process) sensing information (such as garment performance data or user performance data) received from the garment. Since only authorized garments are configured to electronically pair with authenticated sensors, a user (or manufacturer) can be assured that the sensing data received by the sensor is both accurate and consistent with its intended use (a sensor designed for use with running shoes can not properly be used with dance shoes, for example).

Apple views tennis-shoe DRM as a way to head off what it sees as a potential plague of sneaker hacking. “Some people,” the patent application observes, “have taken it upon themselves to remove the sensor from the special pocket of the [iPod-linked] Nike+ shoe and place it at inappropriate locations (shoelaces, for example) or place it on non-Nike+ model shoes.” Oh my God: Geeks are ripping the sensors out of their sneakers and sticking them on their shoelaces! Unleash the shoe nazis!

It used to be cool to be an Apple fanboy. Now it’s starting to be embarrassing.

17 thoughts on “Apple declares war on sneaker hackers

  1. Delaphney

    I like Apple. It’s like living in the future with their products. I hope they can put DRM on sneaker sensors so when Amazon comes along and does open-source sneaker sensors we’ll have a nice range of choices just like we do now with MP3s and phones.


  2. niraj j

    “Steve Jobs attempting to pawn off a retread music-recommendation system ”

    Yes the technology is 2002 but the timing of this is now. Approach probably is

    1. Use iPod as test-pad for Genius (Any recommendation system requires a whole of data and testing)

    2. Go big with launching Genius Radio on iPhone. This is the Killer Application

    The only thing , I would have done differently is maybe introduce Genius as a low-key addition instead of launching it big

  3. Lee

    As an Apple fanboy, I’m more embarressed _for_ Apple than of them. I’d say this thing is being pushed by Nike, who just want to sell more shoes, and had thought that they could latch onto how popular the iPod was with the whole Nike+ thing.

    Being a runner, I’d say that doing this will just result in less sales of the foot pod, not more people buying Nike shoes. Lots of runners won’t/can’t wear Nike, because of preference, or fit/comfort.

    I wonder how much money Apple gets from Nike?

  4. marc farley

    Why stop the hacking? Perhaps Lance and Tiger were sick of having their celebrity feedback coming from a pair of stanky Starbury’s.

    As to “Genius”, “Special Needs” seems more appropriate.

  5. Bertil

    Actually, you just have not to use your Mac for music and it’s still a cool machine: I work in silence and ignore the critics with bliss.

    I’m not sure the Nike assumption is the best: the patent is Mac, and DRM are not big for shoes yet. Nike is too busy making Converse lame to have two simultaneous bad ideas.

  6. Tom

    Hi Nick, thanks for the link. But I’m sure you know it’s bad form to hotlink images like that. Suggest you clip an image from the patent and use your own bandwith.

    Tom Simonite, New Scientist online technology editor

  7. Charles

    Don’t be so quick to judge. Non-obvious applications are often concealed behind obvious ones in a patent. I can see some excellent applications of this technology. For example..

    One of the most difficult things doctors face is non-compliance from patients. Maybe a doctor prescribes a custom foot brace to a patient with orthopedic problems, with orders to wear it at least 8 hours a day. The patient comes back and says “doc, I did as you said, but I’m not getting any better.” The doc checks the iMed device fitted in the foot brace, downloads the data, and says, “well if you’d wear the thing 8 hours a day like I said, and not 1 hour a day, it might work.” Patient goes home and puts the iMed in his wife’s shoe, so it gets 8 hours of data while she’s at work. He gets caught by the doc at his next appointment, when he finds a “shoe DRM” error.

    Yeah it sounds stupid, but people are stupid, and especially when under stress from an illness, will do stupid things.

  8. iain

    If you read the patent, it is to ensure accurate information is obtained at the receiver. Sorry to destroy all the conspiracies.

    Also, the Genius feature will improve as more people use it. I believe that was mentioned by Jobs in his speech.

  9. jay

    I have to agree what iain just wrote:

    Genius is a service that will no doubt become increasingly more effective as data is collected from a wide variety of users.

    Anyone that understands how recommendation systems work should know that.

    I also agree with Delaphney wrote: using Apple products is like living in the future. While they’re certainly not perfect, they come a lot closer to perfection than any other technology company out there, bar none.

    It’s going to take a lot more than these silly complaints to make the Apple brand uncool.

  10. Russell McOrmond

    “If you read the patent, it is to ensure accurate information is obtained at the receiver.”

    Sure, and locking down hardware/software and not giving the owners the keys is being done to protect copyright holders. This is something that this technology is incapable of doing, and the real effects are on reducing the property rights of the lawful owners of this hardware.

    The new thing in the patent isn’t the collection and transmission of information, but technologies to tie the hardware to “authorized” (by someone other than the owner) garments.

    I find the politics around DRM to be amazing. People who would otherwise be upset at corporations attacking the property rights of fellow citizens will give far beyond the benefit of the doubt if that corporation just happens to be Apple.

    What if it was the government that held the keys to the communications technology and biometric censors that we own? Would that be different to you? And if you think it is, why? I didn’t vote Apple into office, and neither did you.

  11. Gorbag

    I agree that an eventual application of Genius is iPhone. The “interesting app” will be to phone people you don’t know because you might find them interesting/helpful/a source of profit. Of course, the phone will do this automatically without prompting. Then we’ll really see Net 4.0 take off!

  12. aol

    This is just creating some unwarranted Monday morning buzz. It’s already easily possible to use Nike+ with non-Nike footwear. So clearly this isn’t about keeping geeks from taking the pods out of Nike footwear and using them elsewhere. And as one poster pointed out, if you read the patent, it’s just about ensuring accurate information at the receiver. But, mission accomplished I guess: the anti-DRM and Apple-hater trolls are out and page hits are up. Great journalism there.

  13. DennisSC

    Pretty interesting. Now if the guys at the product design firm I work at can design an unhackable shoe, or an unhackable shoe iPod, or whatever, we can find our way to easy street.

  14. another_steve

    “Steve Jobs attempting to pawn off a retread music-recommendation system as some sort of great technological breakthrough.”

    It’s called marketing Nick. Perhaps the real genius is Steve Jobs?

    Regarding other music-related news, I find it interesting that Universal, Warner, Sony and EMI are all getting behind the soon to launch new music service MySpace Music. MySpace Music will reportedly sell MP3s without copy protection, which begs the question why haven’t these music industry heavyweights, apart from EMI, offered DRM-free music on iTunes? I guess it demonstrates, yet again, these music industry heavyweights do not have their music consumers at heart.

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