The big tech news today is that Apple will start using Intel microprocessors (the same brand used in PCs) in its Macintosh computers, starting next year. Some have speculated that this might be motivated by DRM. The theory is that Apple wants the anticopying features that will be built into the hardware of future Intel processors.
The theory is wrong.
Though they’re not talking much about it, savvy people in the computer industry have already figured out that hardware DRM support is a non-starter on general-purpose computers. At most, hardware DRM can plug one hole in a system with many holes, by preventing attacks that rely on running an operating system on top of an emulator rather than on top of a real hardware processor. Plenty of other attacks still work, by defeating insecure operating systems or applications, or by exploiting the analog hole, or by capturing content during production or distribution. Hardware DRM blocks one of the less likely attacks, which makes little if any difference.
If DRM is any part of Apple’s motivation – which I very much doubt – the reason can only be as a symbolic gesture of submission to Hollywood. One of the lessons of DVD copy protection is that Hollywood still seems to need the security blanket of DRM to justify accepting a new distribution medium. DVD copy protection didn’t actually keep any content from appearing on the darknet, but it did give Hollywood a false sense of security that seemed to be necessary to get them to release DVDs. It’s awfully hard to believe that Hollywood is so insistent on symbolic DRM that it could induce Apple to pay the price of switching chip makers.
Most likely, Apple is switching to Intel chips for the most basic reason: the Intel chips meet Apple’s basic needs better than IBM chips do. Some stories report that Intel had an advantage in producing fast chips that run cool and preserve battery power, for laptops. Perhaps Apple just believes that Intel, which makes many more chips than IBM, is a better bet for the future. Apple has its reasons, but DRM isn’t one of them.