When you look at the four buttons, single scroll wheel, and intuitive interface of Apple's iPod, you might believe that there's nothing more to it than plug, play, and rock out. Not so. The iPod has hidden depths. To master all an iPod's its aspects -- from power settings to cross-platform operation -- you must know more than how to turn it on and scroll through the calendar. These tips -- which cover both previous iPods and the newest models -- will help.
Be a Power Miser
Apple claims that the iPod's battery will allow the player to sound off for 10 hours (8 hours on the newest models) between charges. This is true only if you don't do any of the following:
> Turn on backlighting.
> Use the next and previous (double-arrow) buttons.
> Turn on EQ.
> Play songs larger than 9MB (if necessary, break large files into 9MB or smaller files).
> Operate the iPod in a cold -- or very hot -- environment (the battery works best between 50 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Move Your Music
Of course you can move music from your Mac to your iPod, but what if you need to copy music from your iPod to your Mac -- for instance, when you've made room on the Mac's hard drive by deleting your MP3-file collection?
Apple made copying to the Mac harder to do because it didn't want the iPod to become an easy way of transporting music from one computer to another (and thus aid music piracy). The job is possible -- it simply requires making the iPod's music folder appear. To reveal this invisible folder and copy its contents to your Mac, you'll need a utility.
Browsing for Hidden Files One option is The Omni Group's OmniWeb 4 Web browser ($30; 800/315-6664, www.omnigroup.com). It's a tedious way to move files, but it shows how the iPod stores MP3s.
Mount your iPod and drag it into the OmniWeb browser window. Double-click on the iPod_Control folder and then the Music folder therein. You'll see a list of folders whose names begin with the letter F. Open one of these, and then double-click on an MP3 file to download it to your Mac's hard drive.
Other utilities -- including Flying Mouse Software's $8 PodMaster 1000, CodeFab's free Podestal 0.1, Beweis's free Open Pod 0.51 (beta), Marco Balestra's free iPod Tracks to Desktop 1.2.1, and BitCom's free Xpod 1.3.6 -- can download a slew of tunes in one go. Go to VersionTracker.com to find any of these.
Manage Your Music
It's more than a little disconcerting to plug your iPod into the Mac and see the iPod's music library liquidated simply because you changed the contents of your iTunes library. To take control of your iPod's library, you must change how iTunes updates it.
Sync Master Settings make the difference. When you choose the Automatically Update All Songs And Playlists option in iTunes' iPod Preferences window, any songs on your iPod that aren't in iTunes' music library will be deleted when you next update your iPod. This option -- turned on by default -- is handy when you want your iPod to reflect the contents of your iTunes libraries, but it's not so hot when you want your Mac and iPod to hold different songs.
Pick Your Playlists What if you don't want to completely erase your iPod's library? The Automatically Update Selected Playlists Only option updates only the playlists you've selected. Any songs stored on your iPod that don't belong to the selected play-lists will be erased. This is a good setting if your family shares an iPod and a Mac. When Dad wants to load his Beatles collection, he selects that play-list in iTunes, and only that portion of the Library is moved over to the iPod (erasing little Addie's jazz standards). When Addie uses the iPod, she can load her playlist -- giving the old heave-ho to "Bungalow Bill."
Manage by Hand When you choose to manage the iPod library manually, iTunes doesn't automatically delete anything from it. To add songs to your iPod, drag them from the iTunes Library or a playlist.
Pick Tunes On-The-Go
Apple's latest iPods, which run the iPod 2.0 software, have a new feature called the On-The-Go Playlist. It lets you add tracks to a playlist while you're out and about with your iPod, just by clicking and holding on a track, album, or artist for two seconds. But items you add to the playlist after you start playing it won't show up until you restart the playlist. So try to enter all your tracks before you start up the On-The-Go Playlist, or remember to restart it after you've added tracks.
Wake Yourself Up
The new iPod's software also features a clever new feature: an alarm clock. If you've got your iPod hooked up to speakers, you can use this new feature to wake you with music from any playlist: just choose Extras: Clock: Alarm Clock, and then set an alarm time and choose a playlist from the Sound menu. Don't have speakers in your hotel room? The iPod can still make a slick travel alarm: just choose Beep from the Sound menu, and the device itself will emit a series of beeps when it's time to wake up. Be sure to test this feature in advance, though -- if you're a heavy sleeper, the iPod's quiet beeps may not rouse you.
Craft Creative Contacts
You can place more than just phone numbers and addresses on the iPod. If you've got an older model, you can use the iPod's contact list to store directions, helpful foreign phrases, hotel reservation numbers, or even your favorite recipes.
To do this, you'll take advantage of vCard -- a cross-platform, open standard for storing contact information on computers and other personal computing devices. First open a vCard-compatible contact manager -- Apple's Address Book or Microsoft Entourage, for example. Enter the name of the item (Bread Recipe, for example) in the First Name field and the information you want to record in the Title field.
Save the contact and move it to your iPod.
To create line breaks, insert \n where you'd like the line to break. For example, 2 eggs\n4 cups flour\n1 packet yeast\npinch of salt\n1 cup water appears on your iPod like this:
4 cups flour
1 packet yeast
pinch of salt
1 cup water
If you're using a new iPod, adding notes is even easier: just drop text files (they can't be larger than 4K) in the Notes folder on your iPod. The iPod will automatically detect line breaks, so you don't have to add \n anywhere. You can even use basic HTML tags to create hyperlinks to other text files (or to parts of your music library). Get more details at http://developer.apple.com/hardware/ipod/ipodnotereader.pdf.
Switch Your iPod's Platform
Unlike the older models, the new iPods are compatible with both Macs and PCs right out of the box -- but if you've got an older iPod, you can convert it to work with PCs.
Hard-Drive Difference The main difference between the Mac iPod and the Windows version is hard-drive formatting. The Mac iPod's drive is formatted as a Mac OS Hierarchical File System Extended (HFS+) volume. The Windows iPod bears a hard drive formatted as a FAT32 volume.
To convert an iPod intended for one platform to another platform, download the iPod Software Updater for the intended platform (from www.info.apple.com/support/downloads.html) and restore the iPod with that Updater. This process will erase the iPod's hard drive (vaporizing all the music and data on it) and format it as either a Mac OS HFS+ or Windows FAT32 volume, depending on which version of the Updater you've run. To convert the iPod back to its former self, use the other platform's Updater.
Windows Aids People converting older iPods to the Windows platform will need a FireWire-equipped PC (and a six-pin-to-four-pin FireWire cable, if the PC has a four-pin FireWire connector) and a Windows-compatible song manager such as Joe Masters' excellent EphPod (free; www.ephpod.com).
Note that unlike six-pin FireWire connectors, four-pin connectors are not powered, so it's impossible to charge your iPod from such a connector. If your PC has a four-pin connector, you can either install a PCI FireWire card that bears powered six-pin connectors or purchase SiK's $21 FireJuice adapter (925/ 820-1745, www.sik.com). The FireJuice allows you to plug your iPod into either an unpowered FireWire connector or a powered FireWire cable (leading to Apple's iPod power adapter, for example).
Armed with these tips and tricks, you'll have a smarter, better-sounding, and longer-playing iPod -- and isn't that music to your ears?