iPod shuffle Tips and Tricks

Is the iPod shuffle really such a simple device that it merits instructions no more complicated than lock, load, and play? Not in my book, it doesn't.

Having monkeyed with a 512MB iPod shuffle for a little over a week, it's time to begin collecting tips for making the most of Apple's most diminutive music player. Read on to learn how to hang onto your shuffle's cap, create a smarter playlist than what is offered by Autofill, and--speaking of Autofill--why it, in league with an iPod Preferences option, are a handy combo.

Keep it Together

Loathe as I am to admit it, I’m not a terribly organized person. Possessing this awful truth I knew that within seconds of owning an iPod shuffle I’d lose its protective cap. Sure enough, upon my return from Macworld Expo, I couldn’t locate the cap in any of my bags and it was only after I rooted through one pants pocket after another that I ran it to ground.

To ensure that this wouldn’t happen again, I determined to take action. That action is the basis for today’s iPod shuffle hack: Keeping it Together.

I’ve misplaced enough things in my life to be aware that similarly afflicted photographers secure their lens caps to their cameras with these $1.80 elastic-loops-attached-to-a-sticky-button doodads (also known as a Lens Cap Holder With Elastic Band Attachment). Given that the only way to be sure that my shuffle cap sticks around is to physically attach it to the shuffle, this would be my solution.

To put thought into action I performed the following operations.

Using a thin screwdriver and needle nose pliers, I pulled the inner lining from the shuffle’s cap (yes, there is such a thing).

I then shoved a push pin through the top of the out cap to provide a hole for the lens cap holder cable.

I cut the elastic end off the lens cap holder, ran the nylon string through the hole I’d made, and then tied a knot to keep the string from slipping back through the hole.

When I attempted to replace the inner cap I discovered that the inner part fits so snugly next to the outer cap that the two parts wouldn’t snap completely together with the tiny knot in between them. Whipping out my Swiss Army knife (use more precise tools for a more polished look), I cut a hole in the end of the inner cap. The two pieces then snapped together nicely.

To finish the operation I attached the sticky part of the cap holder to the back of the iPod shuffle.

I know, I know, you’re wondering if the iPod looks strange when attached to the lanyard. It’s not as bad as you might expect. It resembles nothing so much as a tiny clapper hanging from a Tibetan bell. And frankly, while some may find such a hack ungainly, odds are I’ll still have my cap long after theirs have been lost.

Smarter shuffle Playlists

In my recent review of the iPod shuffle I mentioned that while iTunes’ new Autofill feature is convenient, you can create better playlists for the shuffle with a Smart Playlist. After a couple of colleagues responded with “Care to show us how, smart guy?” I’ve come up with this:

After creating several Autofill playlists, I was surprised to discover just how many songs in my music library run for less than a minute. I like Brian Wilson’s "Barnyard" and the Who’s "Tommy’s Holiday Camp" as much as the next guy, but I prefer that my iPod be filled with songs that are more than musical appetizers. Likewise, I don’t want to pack my shuffle with songs containing endless drum solos or large wav files (the one uncompressed format playable on the shuffle).

Also, having an iPod full of holiday music was great a month ago, but now that it’s nearing Valentine’s Day, I can do without visions of sugar plum fairies dancing through my head. And because I prefer that my exercise sessions aren’t interrupted with fits of laughter, any Spoken Word selections (which, in my collection, are made up largely of Eddie Izzard recordings) are out.

With all this in mind, my For the Shuffle smart playlist reads this way:

Once you’ve created the smart playlist, simply select the iPod shuffle in iTunes’ source list and choose the smart list you created from the Autofill From pop-up menu. To refresh the contents of the smart playlist, just select everything in it and hit the Delete key to remove its contents. Because Live Updating is switched on, the smart playlist will be automatically repopulated with music.

There are loads of other ways to create smart playlists for the shuffle. If you’d like to propose some of them, feel free to use the comments link below to post your ideas in our forums.

Autofill as Potential Playlist Generator

iTunes 4.7.1 includes a new Keep This iPod in Source List feature that works only with the iPod shuffle. Not only is this a handy option that allows you to create playlists for your shuffle when it’s not plugged into your Mac or PC, but it’s a nice tool for creating a multitude of playlists that you can pick and choose from when you next sync your shuffle. It’s like this:

With the Keep This iPod in Source List option enabled in the iPod Preferences window, select the iPod in the Source list. Enable the Choose Songs Randomly and Replace All Songs When Autofilling options in the Autofill pane at the bottom of the iTunes window.

Click the Autofill button and see what iTunes comes up with. If you don’t care for the selections, click Autofill again to create a new random playlist. When you find a playlist that you like, select all the songs in the playlist and choose New Playlist From Selection from iTunes’ File menu. iTunes will do as instructed and create a new playlist that includes the selected songs.

If you object to a few songs in the playlist, feel free to select them and press the Delete key to remove them from the playlist (this doesn’t remove them from your music library). Now fill in the playlist with songs you do like by dragging them from the iTunes library or another playlist.

When you wish to load one of these playlists onto your shuffle, just select the shuffle in the Source list, disable the Choose Songs Randomly option, and select the playlist from the Autofill From pop-up menu.

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