Knowing iPod

Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk in Greenwich Village, David Bowie and Iggy Pop on the Lower East Side, and the Velvet Underground in the subway. Dire Straits on Wall Street, Steely Dan in Midtown, and Sonny Rollins on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Drifters on Broadway, Miles Davis uptown, John and Yoko on the Upper West Side.

Charlie Parker in Harlem, Yo-Yo Ma on the Upper East Side, Primal Fear across Central Park. “The music must change,” sang Roger Daltrey of the Who, and the only way you can conveniently carry that much music around while touring the Big Apple in one day is with an Apple iPod.

Music has changed so much during the shift from purchasing music in stores to obtaining music online that the music industry hardly recognizes it, and the Apple iPod music player is one of the major catalysts.

The iPod holds so much music that no matter how large your music collection, you will seriously consider putting all your music into digital format on your computer, transferring portions of it to the iPod, and playing music from both your computer and your iPod from now on.

You might never stop buying CDs, but you won’t have to buy all your music that way. And you’ll never again need to replace the music that you already own. As an iPod owner, you’re on the cutting edge of music player technology.

This article introduces the iPod and tells you what to expect when you open the box. I describe how to power up your iPod and connect it to your computer, both of which are essential tasks that you need to know how to do — your iPod needs power, and your iPod needs music, which it gets from your computer.

The iPod is, essentially, a hard drive and a digital music player in one device, but that device is such a thing of beauty and style and so highly recognizable by now that all Apple needs to do in an advertisement is show it all by itself. Even the 40GB model (the largest capacity as of this writing) weighs less than two CDs in standard jewel cases, and iPod mini is smaller than a cell phone and weighs just 3.6 ounces.

The convenience of carrying music on an iPod is phenomenal. For example, the 40GB iPod model can hold around 10,000 songs. That’s more than 21 days of nonstop music. You can put enough music on a 40GB iPod to last three weeks if played continuously, around the clock — or about one new song a day for the next 20 years.

And with the iPod’s built-in skip protection in every model, you don’t miss a beat as you jog through the park or your car hits a pothole. Although Apple has every right to continue to promote its Macintosh computers, the company saw the wisdom of making the iPod compatible with Windows PCs.

Every iPod now comes with the software that you need to make it work with Windows systems as well as Macintosh OS X. A common misconception is that your iPod becomes your music library. Actually, your iPod is simply another player for your music library, which is safely stored on your computer.

One considerable benefit of digital music technology is that you can use your computer to serve up your music library and make perfect-quality copies. Copy as much of it as you want onto your iPod, and take it on the road. Two decades from now those digital songs will be the same in quality — the music won’t be trapped on a cassette or CD that can degrade over time (CDs can stop working after 15-20 years).

The wonderfully remixed, remastered, reconstituted version of your favorite album can be copied over and over forever, just like the rest of your information, and it never loses its sound fidelity. If you save your music in digital format, you will never lose a song and have to buy it again.

The iPod experience includes iTunes (or, in some cases, MusicMatch Jukebox), which lets you organize your music in digital form, make copies, burn CDs, and play disc jockey without discs. Suddenly your music world includes online music stores and free music downloads.

Without iTunes (or MusicMatch Jukebox), your iPod is merely an external hard drive. As a result of using iTunes (or MusicMatch Jukebox), your music library is more permanent than it ever was before because you can make backup copies that are absolutely the same in quality.

You’ll spend only about ten seconds copying an entire CD’s worth of music from iTunes on your computer to your iPod. Any iPod can play any song in the most popular digital audio formats, including MP3, AIFF, WAV, and the new AAC format, which features CD-quality audio in smaller file sizes than MP3. The iPod also supports the Audible AA spoken word file format.

The iPod is also a data player, perhaps the first of its kind. As an external hard drive, the iPod serves as a portable backup device for important data files. You can transfer your calendar and address book to help manage your affairs on the road, and you can even use calendar event alarms to supplement your iPod’s alarm and sleep timer.

Although the iPod isn’t as fully functional as a personal digital assistance (PDA) — for example, you can’t add information directly to the device — you can view the information. You can keep your calendar and address book automatically synchronized to your computer, where you normally add and edit information.

iPod Models

Introduced way back in the Stone Age of digital music (2001), the iPod family has grown by three generations and spawned at least one private-label version (the HPod from Hewlett-Packard). Even from the beginning, iPod models were truly innovative for their times. With the MP3 music players of 2001, you could carry about 20 typical songs (or a single live Phish set) with you, but the first iPod could hold more than 1,000 typical songs (or a 50-hour Phish concert).

Today’s iPod works with iTunes on either Windows computers or Macs, but that wasn’t always the case. The first-generation iPods work only with Macs. In 2002, Apple introduced the second generation — one version for Windows and another for the Mac, using the same design for both. For the third generation (2003), Apple changed the design once again.

Third-generation and fourth-generation models, which are the only models available from Apple as of this writing, work with either Windows or Mac and come in a variety of hard-drive sizes. Some would argue that iPod mini, introduced in early 2004, is part of the fourth generation, but in most ways it is more like a spin-off of the third generation because it has the same capabilities and uses the same software as the third generation. (iPod mini also works with either Mac or Windows.)

But they look similar — the fourth-generation iPods announced, use the same type of buttons and controls as iPod mini. By design, you can hold an iPod in your hand while you thumb the scroll wheel (our generic term for scroll wheel, scroll pad, touch wheel, or click wheel). The LCD screen on full-size models offers backlighting so that you can see it in the dark. For a nifty chart that shows the differences between iPod models, see the specifications page on the Apple iPod Web site.

iPods First-generation

Apple doesn’t sell first-generation iPods anymore, but you might see a few on eBay. More likely, their proud owners are Mac users who still find them useful. Despite its high price tag ($399) compared with other MP3 players, the first 5GB iPod (offering 5GB of storage space) was an unqualified success when it was introduced in October 2001.

Apple sold more than 125,000 units within 60 days. “Listening to music will never be the same again,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the press at the introduction of the first iPod, and he was right. Months later, Apple introduced the 10GB model. First-generation iPods work only with Macs, connecting to a Mac with a standard FireWire cable.

The first generation offers a distinctive scroll wheel that physically turns with your finger as you use it. These early iPods are hefty at 6.5 ounces and have a stainless-steel back and dual-plastic top casing. FireWire is called IEEE 1394 by the engineers who designed it and DV terminal by camcorder manufacturers that use it, except Sony, which calls it i.Link.

These models don’t offer all the features of newer generations and can’t be used with accessories that are designed for newer generations. For example, you can’t expect these older models to use extensions such as voice recorders and memory card readers.

First-generation models can’t be updated to version 2 or newer versions of the iPod software, so they also lack support for features such as adding notes to the iPod and setting up an on-the-go playlist. However, battery life is comparable to newer models, offering up to eight hours before requiring a recharge.

iPods Second-generation

Just as enterprising Linux and Windows developers were trying to cobble together ways to make the iPod work with their systems, Apple introduced a second-generation design in the form of two models: the 20GB iPod for the Mac and the 10GB for Windows, which was supplied preformatted for Windows.

The Windows model of the second generation shipped with MusicMatch Jukebox. Second-generation models use an innovative solid-state touch wheel that doesn’t physically turn as you use it but instead responds to finger pressure.

These models use a standard FireWire connection to connect to the computer with a six-pin FireWire cable. Second-generation models can’t be updated to version 2 of the iPod software, so they don’t offer all the features of the third and fourth generation and can’t be used with accessories designed for third-generation and fourth-generation models.

Although standard FireWire accessories (such as power adapters for automobiles) are available for these models, voice recorders and memory card readers are not.

iPods Third-generation

The third generation iPod in its dock connected to the power adapter.The third-generation models, many of which are still sold in stores as of this writing, include the 10GB, 15GB, and 30GB models introduced in 2003, and the 20GB and 40GB models introduced later in that same year.

All third-generation models and variants, such as iPod mini, share the same basic features and work with the Mac or Windows, and Apple continually provides software updates for these models.

Models of the third generation are thinner than the second generation and use touch-sensitive buttons with audible feedback (replacing the pressure-sensitive buttons of the second generation that offer tactile feedback).

Third-generation models also use a dock connector to connect to a computer or power supply.

The dock keeps your iPod in an upright position while connected and lets you connect a home stereo or headphones through the dock, which makes it convenient as a base station when you’re not traveling with your iPod — you can slip the iPod into the dock without connecting cables.

The dock doesn’t come standard with the 15GB model, but you can order it as an extra from the Apple Store. The supplied cables connect to the dock on one end (or to the iPod itself, if you don’t use a dock) and connect to a computer or power supply on the other end, using standard FireWire or USB 2.0 (some models may not include the USB cable, but you can order it from the Apple Store).

iPod mini

iPod mini fits in a shirt pocket.The third generation also includes iPod mini, which is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Its smooth, ultra-thin, anodized aluminum case comes in five different colors and houses a 4GB drive that can hold about 1,000 songs — as much as the original 5GB model.

An iPod mini can fit more songs in the same amount of space because Apple introduced a better compression format called AAC in second-generation models.

The AAC format can also be used in older models, so in effect when Apple introduced AAC the capacity of all models increased.

Besides its smaller size (and therefore, smaller dock), another of iPod mini’s distinguishing characteristic is the click wheel, which offers the same functions as the touch wheel but is more suitable for such a small device.

The click wheel combines the scroll wheel and buttons, with pressure-sensitive buttons underneath the top, bottom, left, and right areas of the circular pad of the wheel. iPod mini has the same software features as the full-size, third-generation iPods except that it uses a different set of accessories because of its size.

iPods Fourth-generation

The fourthgeneration iPod uses the same click wheel as iPod mini.Apple just introduced a fourth-generation iPod, that uses the same click wheel and buttons as iPod mini, and offers several new features with the new software update (version 3.0) of the iPod software.

This includes the ability to randomly shuffle the playback of songs with the press of a button and to charge up the iPod through the USB connection to your computer (previously only FireWire connections to the computer provided power).

The fourth-generation iPods are available in 40GB and 20GB models. The new units also offer up to 12 hours of battery time between charges. The battery is the same type as used in other models — the improvement is in how the software manages power in the iPod.

Like third-generation iPods, the fourth generation also uses a dock connector to connect the iPod to a computer or power supply, and the dock itself is available separately from the Apple Store.

The fourth-generation iPods connect to computers using either FireWire or USB connections. The new iPod models differ from earlier models by offering a top-level Music choice in the main menu and the ability to create multiple on-the-go playlists. You can also play audio books at slower or faster speeds while maintaining natural-sounding pitch.