Editor’s Note: The following article on iPod maintenance is excerpted from the Macworld iPod and iTunes Superguide , an 88-page electronic book full of digital music advice from our experts. For information on ordering this $12.95 ebook, click here.
Delightful a device as the iPod may be, there are times when it simply won’t cooperate. When you feel your temper flare, use these techniques to put your iPod back on its best behavior.
The iPod refuses to start up. First, check that the hold switch isn’t on. Even if it appears to be off, flick it back and forth a couple of times. If you have a remote control plugged into it, be sure that its hold switch is off as well. If that doesn’t work, plug the into a power adapter to charge it. The battery may be so drained that it won’t boot.
If you can get the iPod to mount on your computer, restore it with the latest iPod Software Updater (see “Restoring the iPod” for instructions).
If the iPod won’t mount on the computer or take a charge, its battery may need to be completely drained. Press the Play button, put it aside for 24 hours, and then try charging it.
If the iPod is over 18 months old and you use it a lot, the battery may be dead. If so, you can have it replaced for you by Apple for $59, or by outfits such as iPodResQ, PDASmart, or Small Dog Electronics. Not all of these companies replace batteries on every iPod model. Check their Web sites for details. Some companies, including Sonnet Technology and Newer Technology will sell you replacement batteries for your iPod, along with tools for opening it and instructions for performing the operation.
If nothing else works, contact Apple—either by phone, by taking it into an Apple retail store.
The vanishing iPod
The iPod doesn’t mount or appear in iTunes or the iPod Software Updater utility. Make sure that the iPod is plugged into the appropriate port. Current iPods require a high-power USB port. The iPod won’t be recognized if plugged into a low-power USB port, such as the one included on many keyboards. Versions of the iPod prior to the fourth-generation work only with a FireWire connection. You should also make sure that the iPod isn’t on a chain of FireWire devices. The iPod requires just about all the power a FireWire port can deliver and if it’s on a chain of devices, it may not get the power it needs.
If it still won’t mount, your iPod may be frozen. To unlock it, reset it by holding down the Menu and Play buttons on the first three generations of iPods (or the Play and Select button on the mini and fourth-generation iPod) for about six seconds.
If resetting the iPod doesn’t do anything, restart your Mac with the Shift key held down (and the iPod plugged in) to disable the Mac’s startup items. An iPod that responds well to this treatment should be restored.
If the iPod still won’t mount, reset it again and then place the iPod in Disk Mode—a mode similar to the Mac’s FireWire Target Disk mode that forces the iPod to mount. (See “Access your iPod’s secret modes” for instructions for your iPod model.) An iPod that mounts only when thrown into Disk Mode should be restored.
If the iPod appears on the Mac’s Desktop but not in iTunes, it’s probably because you’ve connected your iPod to your Mac via a USB cable and your Mac is running a version of OS X prior to 10.3.4. Try upgrading.
When the iPod runs into trouble, it often tries to communicate its woes via an onscreen icon. Unfortunately, their meanings aren’t always obvious.
The iPod displays a folder with an exclamation point when it starts up. Your iPod may just be out of juice and confused. Try charging it. If that doesn’t help, update the iPod with the latest version of the iPod Updater that is compatible with your iPod. An incompatible version of the software may have been installed on your iPod. If updating doesn’t work, restore your iPod.
This symbol can also indicate a dead hard drive. If nothing else works, contact Apple.
The iPod displays a battery with an exclamation point. You first plan of attack should be to charge the iPod. Be sure you’re charging it from a working power source. A USB 2.0 connection won’t charge a third-generation iPod (though it will charge later iPod models) nor will an iPod charge when it’s attached to a sleeping computer via a FireWire connection. If your iPod won’t charge even after your iPod has been plugged into a power receptacle for a long time, try a different cable. A damaged cable may also prevent the iPod from charging. If the connector “gives” when you plug in a FireWire cable, this is likely the problem. Such a problem requires taking the iPod into Apple for repair.
If charging doesn’t help, your iPod may be frozen. To reset it, hold down the Menu and Play buttons on the first three generations of iPods (or the Play and Select button on later, dock-connector iPods) for about six seconds. If all else fails, the battery may be dead.
The iPod displays the image of a spinning disk and magnifying glass. Congratulations! You’ve managed to initiate the iPod’s built-in disk scanning test. This is normally done on the first three generations of iPods by resetting the iPod and then pressing Previous, Next, Menu, and the Select button. This icon isn’t available on later iPods.
If you’ve initiated the scanning test and don’t wish for it to complete, reset the iPod. If you’d like to complete the scan, plug the iPod into a power source as the test drains the battery quickly and takes between 15 and 20 minutes to complete.
The iPod displays a picture of a power adapter and wall plug. The iPod wants to be plugged into a power outlet and won’t proceed until you do so. You see this icon after you’ve restored your iPod and the iPod needs to update its firmware. This occurs only when you’ve plugged your iPod into a USB port or un-powered FireWire port (the 4-pin variety of FireWire ports found on some PCs).
The iPod displays a sad iPod icon with an exclamation point. Now may be the time to start crying. Your iPod is broken and needs to be taken in for repair. In all likelihood, all data on it (and yes, this includes the music too) is lost. Some people have had luck letting the iPod’s battery drain completely, charging the iPod, and then restoring it, but this is often a short-term solution. Something’s wrong with the iPod and while it may work for awhile, it will need soon need servicing.
Confused battery readout
You turn the iPod on after charging, and the battery display appears nearly empty, according to the display. Upgrade to the latest iPod software. The battery display icon is more accurate in recent versions of this software. Then wait for a bit. It takes the iPod a minute or so to update the battery indicator.
The sleepy iPod
The iPod’s screen gets dark after about 10 minutes and the back seems hot. This was a condition most often found with third-generation iPods. Termed “The Black Screen of Death,” this condition indicates that the iPod is overheating and defective. Return it to Apple for service.
Through your headphone you hear a sound as the hard drive spins up and then a second of static when a song begins playing. This happens with some early fourth-generation iPods—most of which are out of warranty unless you’ve purchased AppleCare. Many claim the sound is more discernible with third-party headphones than with Apple’s earbuds.
If you can, take the iPod to an Apple Store and ask the Genius to listen to it. If the problem exists and the iPod’s under warranty, Apple may replace it. Reports indicate that Apple’s online tech support may be more reluctant to exchange an iPod that has this problem.
Videos won’t transfer to the iPod. Videos must be encoded in a format compatible with the iPod, and some that claim to be compatible are not. There are more details on this in the “Converting Video from Your Hard Drive” section of the Working with Video chapter of this ebook.
The sound of impending doom
You hear a ticking or grinding sound coming from the inside of your iPod. This is the sound of your iPod’s hard drive, and it’s not a sound you want to hear. Though your iPod may be behaving now, it won’t be for long. If the iPod is under warranty, take it to Apple in the hope that it can be replaced. If it’s out of warranty, prepare for its eventual demise.
Restoring the iPod
A common fix for many iPod problems is to restore the software on the iPod. Go to Apple’s Web site and download the latest iPod Software Updater that works with your iPod model. To initiate the restore process, start the updater and then press the Restore button. Note that restoring your iPod erases all the data on it—music, contacts and calendars, and any files you’ve copied to it. If you want to keep the data on your iPod, back it up before restoring it.
Access your iPod’s secret modes
The iPod includes a few built-in troubleshooting modes, including Reset and Disk Mode. Here are the buttons you press to access each mode depending on the iPod you’re using.
iPod Secret Modes
|iPod Model||Reset||Disk Mode||Disk Scan|
|First, Second, And Third-Generation iPods||Play and Menu||Reset; then Previous and Next||Reset; then Previous and Next and Center and Menu|
|Click-wheel iPods||Center and Menu||Reset; then Center and Play||Not applicable|
|iPod shuffle||Turn off and on||Not applicable||Not applicable|
[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is among the contributors to the Macworld iPod and iTunes Superguide. ]