9 Cool (and Useful) Mods for iPods and iTunes

Your iPod is more like a miniature computer than you might think. After all, it has a screen, keys, storage, and an operating system. And just as with any PC, you can add new features, overhaul the OS, update the interface, and personalize it to your heart's content.

While you're at it, why not fill it with content from the Internet and with movies ripped from your own DVDs? And hey, why shouldn't you be able to copy your tunes off the player anytime you want? You can do all of that and more with these cool iPod hacks. They're free, harmless (meaning that you can reverse or undo any of them without hosing your player), and guaranteed to help you get more fun and function out of your iPod. (We'll identify which generations of iPod each hack works with. To determine which generation you have, consult this list.)

And since most iPods communicate with a copy of iTunes, we've thrown in a couple of hacks to make that program work the way you want it to.

Copy Music From Your iPod

Compatible with: All iPods

Apple's iTunes won't let you copy music files from your iPod, but iPod Folder will.
Here's a scenario to consider: Your PC's hard drive dies and takes your music collection with it. Or you're migrating to a new PC and need an easy way to copy over your MP3s. Either way, iPod Folder can come to your rescue. Available for Windows and Mac, this simple utility copies music directly from any iPod to any folder you choose on your PC, something you can't do with a standard iPod that lacks iPod Folder. You can even store the program on your player so it's available at a moment's notice.

To get started, connect your iPod and make sure that it's enabled for use as an external drive (check the setting in iTunes if you're not sure--go to the Summary tab when the iPod is selected); then run the iPod Folder program. Click the iPod icon and choose the appropriate drive letter for your player. Next, click the folder and choose the desired destination for your music. Finally, enable any options you want, such as Include iPod Folder Structure or MP3 Files Only (the latter is helpful if you don't want to copy DRM-protected AAC files). Click the arrow to begin the copying process.

In Video: How to Sync iTunes with Your Non-iPod Player


Carry Wikipedia on Your iPod

Compatible with: Pre-fifth-generation iPods (not including Nanos)

Don't let your lack of an Internet connection stop you from finding the info you need. Encyclopodia puts Wikipedia on your iPod.
Is that an encyclopedia in your pocket? It is if you have Encyclopodia, an iPod-formatted version of Wikipedia--the Internet's vast repository of shared human knowledge. Just think of the (frequently accurate) facts you'll have at your disposal to impress friends, settle bar bets, and ace final exams.

All you need is the free Encyclopodia viewer, the also-free Wikipedia e-book files (available in English, German, and Italian), and a pre-fifth-generation iPod (not a Nano). iPhone and iPod touch users can access the living Wikipedia in their devices' Web browsers, of course.

Rev Up Your iPod with Rockbox

Compatible with: All iPods

The Rockbox firmware interface gives your iPod a new look and new features.
Years in the making, open-source firmware Rockbox turns your iPod into a tweakable, customizable audio powerhouse for creating on-the-fly playlists, normalizing track volume, and playing just about any audio file on the planet (including FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, and unprotected WMA). It comes with a five-band equalizer, custom fonts and themes, a real-time clock, and tons of iPod-compatible games and applications. In addition, you can choose from a huge library of plug-ins, including everything from a battery benchmark to a chess game to a Matrix-style screen saver.

Before you install Rockbox, which can be a tricky operation, bear in mind that the program's cool new features come at a price: At least temporarily, you trade in the iPod's friendly, straightforward interface for one that's noticeably Linux-like in appearance and function. Navigating the Rockbox interface is a little awkward at first, and it doesn't recognize songs, videos, or audiobooks purchased from iTunes. Furthermore, the Rockbox support forums contain the occasional scary post declaring "Rockbox ruined my iPod!" In our tests, however, Rockbox proved to be a fun and easily reversible modification.

Select a theme you like to give your iPod a Rockbox makeover.
Start by grabbing the manual for your specific iPod model. We'll assume here that you have a fifth-generation iPod Video and a Windows PC. Download and unzip the latest stable build of the Rockbox Utility, connect your iPod (making sure that it's enabled for disk use), select its drive letter, and then run the Complete Installation from the Quick Start tab. Follow the prompts until you've selected and installed some themes, at which point the utility will appear to stop working. No worries: It's just Rockbox's way of telling you that the installation is (almost) complete.

Your final preliminary task is to install the Rockbox bootloader, by way of a small utility called iPodPatcher. After running it, your iPod should reboot itself and fire up the Rockbox firmware. If that doesn't happen, reboot it yourself by holding down the Menu and Select buttons simultaneously for a few seconds.

Rockbox doesn't permanently alter your iPod. To revert to the original firmware, simply reset the player and immediately flip the Hold switch. (You can reset most iPod models by holding down the Menu button and the center Select button for a few seconds.) After it boots back to the Apple firmware, slide the Hold switch back again and use the iPod as you normally would.


Listen to Your iPod in the Shower

Compatible with: Most iPods

The TearDrop iPod Water Resistant Bathroom Speaker lets you shower up without shorting out your iPod.
Sand and surf do not mix well with iPods, which explains the appeal of the TearDrop iPod Water Resistant Bathroom Speaker. Compatible with most iPod models (anything with dimensions not exceeding 2.5 inches by 4.2 inches by 0.8 inch) and suitable for kitchens, beaches, bathrooms, and even showers, the TearDrop keeps your player dry and debris-free while cranking out the tunes from its downward-facing speaker. Granted, it's not really a mod, and you do have to unscrew the top and fiddle with the controls any time you want to skip tracks or adjust the volume--but what's that minor inconvenience in exchange for being able to sing along with "Drowning in a Sea of Love" while soaking in the bathtub? The TearDrop sells for $58.

Give Your Video iPod a Touch of iPod Touch

Compatible with: Fifth-generation and later Video iPods

If you love your aging Video iPod but covet a slick new iPod Classic or Touch interface, give your iPod a menu makeover. Two firmware hacks let you enhance your fifth-generation iPod with Classic- or Touch-style menus.

Touch Hack 2.0
Touch Hack 2.0 makes a fifth-generation or later Video iPod look like an iPod Touch. (No, it doesn't make your screen touch-sensitive.)
Classic Hack brings the iPod Classic's split-screen interface to the Video iPod, with menu selections on the left and a mini Now Playing pane on the right. It also updates the main Now Playing screen to mimic the Classic's interface. Touch Hack 2.0 introduces changes that are even more dramatic: a lovely Touch-style Now Playing screen and menu icons. You don't get Cover Flow from either hack, but you do get a cool (and easily reversible) interface overhaul.

To install Touch Hack 2.0 (both hacks use similar processes), first mod­ify your iPod's menu settings so that only the following op­i??tions appear: Music, Photos, Videos, Ex­i??tras, and Settings. To ensure that iTunes isn't running, eject your iPod in iTunes but leave the cable connected.

Use the iPodWizard utility to install Classic Hack or Touch Hack 2.0 on your fifth-generation iPod. To revert to the original interface, click 'Downgrade Firmware'.
Download and unzip the hack, and then download the free iPodWizard utility for loading third-party firmware onto your iPod. Run the program, change the Edit Mode to Firmware File, click Open Firmware, and navigate to the fifth-generation iPod Touch firmware file you downloaded. Confirm that your plugged-in iPod is listed in the iPodWizard Essentials area to the right. If the list shows only an "unmounted" iPod, click the Mount button and wait until the proper iPod name appears there.

Now click Write to iPod, wait a few seconds for the process to finish, and click the Eject button; your iPod should reboot itself. Wait for the computer to redetect it; then click Eject again. Unplug the iPod, and you should be good to go.

When downloading the firmware, be sure to get the proper version for your particular Video iPod. Firmware designed for a 5G iPod won't work on a 5.5G iPod, and vice versa. If things go wrong or you don't like the new interface, merely return to iPodWizard and click the Downgrade Firmware button to restore your iPod's original firmware.


Rip DVDs to Your iPod

Compatible with: All video-capable iPods

Coupled with a DVD decryption utility, HandBrake can rip any DVD movie to your iPod.
It's great to have an iPod that plays video, but how do you get videos in the right format for your player? The open-source gem HandBrake can help. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, this simple utility converts DVDs into iPod-compatible MP4 video files.

Well, some DVDs, anyway: HandBrake balks at the encryption that protects most Hollywood movies; it's designed to rip unprotected discs. But a little Google searching will reveal several utilities (among them, DVD43) that can decrypt DVDs on the fly.

After installing DVD43 or a similar decryption utility, run HandBrake, click the Show Presets button, and choose a suitable preset: iPhone/iPod Touch, iPod High-Rez, or iPod Low-Rez. Now insert your DVD, wait a minute while your system recognizes it, and then click the Browse button in the Source section. Navigate to the DVD's Video_TS folder and click OK. Next, choose a destination for the output file (your iTunes folder is a logical choice). Finally, click Encode Video and settle in for a long wait. Even on a fast system, ripping and encoding a typical DVD can take several hours. When HandBrake is done, copy the new video to your iPod as you would any other video file.

Convert MP3 Audiobooks to iPod Format

Compatible with: All iPods

It's easy to rip an audiobook CD that you borrowed from the local library, but a bit trickier to listen to it on your iPod. That's because the ripped CD usually ends up in MP3 format, and iPods don't know how to bookmark MP3s. Good luck trying to navigate back to wherever you left off in The Good Earth.

If you have audiobooks saved as MP3 files, MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter will transform them into iPod-friendly files that bookmark the page you were last on.
Fortunately, you can use MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter to turn ordinary MP3s into iPod-friendly M4B files. When you play the converted files, your iPod will remember your spot and let you adjust the playback speed--just the way you can with audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store. This free, open-source utility requires Windows; the developer says that Mac and Linux versions will be coming soon.


Monitor Your Music Folders Automatically

Compatible with: iTunes

Seven versions into iTunes, the program still doesn't know how to monitor music folders for new tunes. Sure, it will up­i??date your library with songs purchased from the iTunes Store or ripped from CDs, but what if you want to add music from other sources? iTunes lacks the smarts found in just about every other music manager, forcing you to add files manually.

iTunes Folder Watch makes up for iTunes' lack of folder-monitoring smarts.
Not anymore. iTunes Folder Watch, a free utility for Windows PCs, monitors designated folders and adds any newly discovered music to your iTunes library.

Install the program, and then run it by clicking Start, iTunes Folder Watch, iTunes Folder Watch (Background Mon­itoring). This series of commands will launch iTunes, create an iTFW New Tracks playlist, and add a new icon to your System Tray. Right-click the System Tray, click Open, and add one or more folders to watch for new tunes. Click the Check Now button, and iTFW will scan for tracks not already included in your iTunes library. If it finds any, you'll see them listed in the New Tracks tab. One more click will whisk the songs straight into iTunes, where you can easily copy them from the New Tracks playlist to whatever playlists you want.


Sync iTunes With Your Non-iPod Player

Compatible with: Any player that has a drive letter

When your iPod went to that great electronics graveyard in the sky, you may have replaced it with a non-Apple player--say, a Creative Zen. The problem is, your music library still sits inside iTunes, complete with painstakingly crafted playlists that you'd rather not lose. Do you have to switch to another music manager and re-create your playlists from scratch?

Apple intends for iTunes to work only with iPods, but iTunes Sync lets you transfer iTunes files and playlists to almost any player.
Not if you put iTunes Sync to work. True to its name, this Windows utility can sync any iTunes playlist to many different portable players, including some cell phones. After installing iTunes Sync, fire up iTunes and plug in your player. Right-click the iTunes Sync icon in the System Tray, and choose Configure MP3 Players. Click the Add button, give your player a name, and click the button next to MP3 Player SubFolder to Sync to. Caveat: iTunes Sync currently works only with players that are assigned a drive letter when plugged in--a category that numbers among its members the BlackBerry Pearl, the Creative Zen Stone, and the Motorola Razr V3 (here's a complete list of tested players). If your player shows up as an MTP device, you're out of luck until the program's next release, which the developer says will include MTP support.

After selecting the desired sync folder on your player, choose a folder structure (indicating how you want copied songs to be organized) and the iTunes playlist you want to sync with. If you want more than one, you can use iTunes' smart playlist feature to create a new playlist that includes the ones you want; then choose that playlist to sync with your player.

After making those selections, close the config window, right-click the iTunes Sync icon again, and choose Synchronize MP3 Player. Click the Sync button and sit back while your playlist breaks free of its iTunes shackles.

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