On October 23, 2001, Apple invited a select group of journalists and analysts to its Cupertino headquarters where it rolled out the iPod at a special event, sending each reporter home with the just-announced player and an armload of CDs. Later that same day, back at the Macworld offices, I remember watching Macworld’s Senior News Editor, Jon Seff, demonstrate how one could move files from an iPod to a Mac, circumventing Apple’s copy protection. In other words, people have been hacking the iPod since its very beginning.
While the iPod can stand on its own as one of the coolest pieces of consumer gadgetry to hit the streets in years, there’s nothing like a unique hack to take it from fairly Ferris to full-on Fonzie. Today, there are scores of small apps that will do for you exactly what Jon Seff did on that first day of the iPod’s release. If you just want to pull files from your iPod to your computer, you should have no problem finding a dozen or so different programs to accomplish that.
But there are also plenty of innovative, daring hacks out there to radically alter your iPod. Some of these are simple third-party apps that run in your iPod’s existing applications. Others are more complicated and shouldn’t be attempted unless you understand exactly what it is that you’re doing to your iPod and are willing to void your warranty. In every case, the usual warning applies; try these at your own risk. Also, you should know that when Apple updates its iPod software or even iTunes, it has the potential to disable any and all of these tricks. But if you’re a bit daring, here are six slick iPod hacks that might make you smile.
The Portable Penguin
The current king of iPod hacks is a Linux install that will let you boot the open source OS directly on your 1G, 2G, or 3G iPod (other iPods are not supported). Why would you want to run Linux on your iPod? Because you can, as any good hacker would tell you. But also because it opens the device up to a slew of other functions. Many of the hacks listed below first require this step.
The install is a program called Podzilla, essentially a bare-bones flavor of Linux with a graphical user interface that runs on the iPod’s tiny screens. Once you’ve installed it, you can either boot your iPod regularly, or fire up Podzilla for a pocket Linux environment. Podzilla will utterly transform your iPod, allowing you to view pictures and video, play several games, and, on a 3G iPod, even record audio at full CD-quality resolution (Apple cripples the iPod so that it can record audio at 8kHz only). Be warned, installing this will void your warranty. Playlist cannot be responsible for any damage you might do to your player by hacking it.
One of the coolest iPod hacks is also one of the newest. Sure, while the iPod may be charming to look at with its ultra-modern white casing, what we really want out of it is a bloody frag-fest. Thankfully, the two are no longer mutually exclusive. The folks at iPodLinux recently posted a hack that will let fearless frag-addicts roam the dungeons of Doom armed with a color iPod.
In order to run it, you’ll first need to install two other hacks: Nano X Windows, which will allow you to run a graphical windowing environment on your iPod, and Podzilla. Once installed, it’s a quick trip to download and install the compressed tar balls to get Doom running. You can’t switch weapons or look at an overhead map yet, but you can still get knee deep in gore without getting your hands dirty.
If Doom’s a little too violent for you, perhaps you’d enjoy a friendly game of cards, instead. This simple Windows-only hack will let you use your iPod’s Notes application to play the game blackjack. As the hack’s creator explains, “notes format does not allow random numbers or programming, so the games must be generated in advance.” In other words, you’ll have to load individual games onto your iPod from the computer. While you won’t be able to play others with this version of Blackjack, at least you won’t lose any of your hard earned dollars, either.
The iPod Home Theater
A constant question iPod fans seem to ask is when will it support video. Well, it already does. Sort of. Once you’ve installed iPodLinux, you’re just a few quick steps away from playing uncompressed video on your iPod.
The trickiest part of this hack, assuming you already have Podzilla installed, is uncompressing the video. Currently, this hack only works with uncompressed 24-bit AVI video that has been converted into iPod accessible files using another small application found on the same page. The commands are different for color iPods, minis, and grayscale models, and although they are command-line functions, users should be able to copy and paste the commands with just a slight bit of tweaking to include file names.
PodQuest allows you to download driving directions from Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, and others. It’s highly effective, and one of my favorite iPod add-ons. But what it doesn’t do is download actual maps. Instead, you access driving directions via the iPod’s Notes section.
However, if you have a color iPod, there’s a remarkably easy hack you can use to download maps, and it won’t even void your warranty. It’s called a screenshot. Simply take a few screenshots of the maps you need, organize them in an iPhoto album, and download them to your color iPod. This is a great hack; it’s quick, easy and effective, and anyone can do it.
Yet another hack that requires Podzilla, this hack will let you access your 3G iPod’s recording functions. Although this is already possible, it can only be done currently by purchasing third-party hardware. These can be expensive and, worse, they record to low-quality 8kHz sound. That’s fine for recording a meeting in a boardroom, but what if you want to use your iPod to record The Mountain Goats playing an all-ages show at your local dive?
In that case, you’re going to want higher quality, and this hack will provide it, offering recording rates of up to 96kHz. It will also allow you to use your iPod’s headphone jack for line-in recording, or even use your headphones as a mic. Just make sure you’ve got permission from the venue and artist first; you wouldn’t want to lose your player for the sake of one stealthy recording.
Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based writer and photographer. His work has also appeared in Macworld, Wired, Time, and Salon.
For more on the iPod, please visit the iPod Product Guide.