Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod

Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod

The iPod was not the first portable digital music player, nor is it the cheapest. Regardless, even Apple’s critics agree that the iPod has done something better than any of its competitors: it makes digital music easy to organize and enjoy in a completely portable format.

Easy is the key word in that sentence: using the iPod’s screen-and-wheel interface and Apple’s free iTunes (music importing, organizing and downloading) software, the average person can quickly transform a mountain of CDs into an iPod playing perfectly sorted, great sounding music, feats that only tech-savvy users could perform only two or three years ago.

This Part II of our Beginner’s Guide to iPod has a simple goal: give new and prospective users a quick run through the most common issues involved in setting up and using their iPods. If you need deeper help on any of these issues, use the Help button at the top of every iLounge page for detailed guides. Between this rough outline and the iLounge discussion forums, FAQs and links, you’ll hopefully have everything you need at your fingertips, and be ready to hit the ground running.

Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting

Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod (June 8, 2004)

Step 1: Understand What’s in the Box – and What’s Not

Every iPod box includes five items that are more important than the rest: the iPod, a pair of earphones, at least one white cable, a white plastic power supply, and a software CD that works on PCs and Macintoshes.

pic The complete contents of a full-sized iPod box are here, but you’ll only need to worry about the items with * marks. Top row, left to right: White CD software box* (underneath), earphones*, bagged Dock Connector protectors (2), wired Remote Control, full-sized iPod*, nylon case (inside soft carry case). Bottom row, left to right: Dock, FireWire cable*, power adapter*.

The iPod is a self-contained music playback device, and except for headphones, you won’t need to carry anything else around when you’re using it. Unlike a Walkman, there are no AA batteries to worry about – the iPod contains a rechargeable battery, and you recharge it by connecting it to the aforementioned white cable and power supply. Even better, you won’t need to carry CDs, tapes or other musical media with you: with the help of your computer, the iPod will transport your entire library of CDs onto its portable hard disk.

There’s only one item that the typical iPod buyer will need yet won’t find in the iPod’s box: a USB cable. You can skip to the next step in this Guide if you purchased an iPod mini, or are using either a recent Macintosh computer or a PC that you know is compatible with “FireWire” cables. If not, either you (or a tech-savvy friend) should read the following for an extra purchase you’ll probably need to make.

USB stands for “Universal Serial Bus,” and because the USB cable standard has in fact become universal, virtually every desktop computer currently manufactured includes one or two USB ports. Almost every peripheral device manufactured for PCs uses USB cables.

FireWire is a cable standard preferred by Apple, and a FireWire cable is included in every iPod box as the “white cable” described above. Unfortunately, Firewire is far less common on PC desktop machines than on laptops and Macintoshes. Unless your computer’s manual says you have a FireWire port (or you already knew to purchase an add-on), you don’t.

pic Apple’s official FireWire cable for both the iPod and iPod mini.

Bowing to market pressure, Apple eventually made the iPod compatible with USB-equipped computers, and now sells separately a combined “iPod USB 2.0 + FireWire Cable” ($19) that contains a plug that typical PC users will prefer. Global Source also sells a fully compatible, retractable USB cable ($15.99), which might be a good alternative investment, and useful for travel purposes. These aren’t standard USB cables you might already have around the house. One side uses a proprietary flat Apple connector to attach to the iPod, and the other side has a USB plug.

pic Apple’s official iPod USB 2.0 + FireWire Cable.

Thankfully, you won’t need to buy anything extra if you buy the iPod mini. It includes separate USB and FireWire cables in the box, and future iPods will most likely do the same.

There’s only one other problem. Most computers have older, slower USB ports rather than newer, faster USB 2.0 ports. Worse yet, typical PC users won’t be able to tell the difference between a computer with USB 2.0 ports and USB 1 ports, because they look identical to one another. The somewhat good news is that any iPod and USB 2.0 cables will work if you plug them into an older USB 1 port, but music transfers will be slow. Really slow. The good news is that you’ll generally only have to suffer once or twice to fill your iPod.

If slow speeds don’t bother you, skip now to step 2. If you know you have a USB 2.0 port on your computer and have purchased the optional Apple/Global Source cables, skip to step 2. But if you want a fast, reliable FireWire option for your PC, Belkin makes a FireWire 3-Port card for desktop PCs (MSRP $59, commonly sold for $34.99 or less) that you can install quickly and with tremendous benefit. We strongly recommend Belkin’s solution over cheaper alternatives, since too many super-cheap FireWire cards create installation and compatibility problems for their owners.

Step 2: Preparing Your Computer to Connect to the iPod

Connecting the iPod to your computer is a simple process – if you follow the directions. Resist the temptation to prepare your computer in advance by downloading iPod drivers/updates and iTunes from Apple’s web site. Instead, begin the process by inserting the iPod software CD into your computer, then follow the directions to install the iPod software. Drivers and tools will be installed on your computer, as will be iTunes. Though they may not be the newest versions of these applications, they’re guaranteed to work right out of the box. Update them with Internet downloads later, once you’ve established that everything’s working.

pic Apple’s official FireWire dock cable plugged into a full-sized iPod.

Once you’ve followed all the directions to complete the software installation, you can physically connect your iPod to your computer. PCs may require a Restart before plugging anything in, and we strongly recommend that you strictly follow the directions, particularly Restart and any “Don’t Disconnect the iPod” instructions, to a T. Failure to do so can cause unexpected computer and iPod problems that will take longer to fix than just doing things properly in the first place.

When it’s time to make the connection, if you have a FireWire port on your computer, use the white FireWire cable. If you have a USB port on your computer, you’ll use either of the optional USB 2.0 cables described above, or the standalone USB cable included with the iPod mini.

To make the physical connection, you plug the long, flat end of the cable into your iPod’s bottom “Dock Connector” port, and the other end into your computer. Within seconds, your computer will recognize that the iPod’s plugged in, and give you additional directions on how to prepare it for its first use.

An iPod will automatically recharge its battery when connected with a FireWire cable to a desktop computer or Macintosh laptop, and the iPod mini can even recharge its battery when connected to a USB 2.0 port. You’ll know if your battery is charging because a battery icon will appear in the upper right-hand corner of the iPod’s screen, and show movement to indicate recharging activity. Be aware that if your iPod isn’t charging when connected to your computer, the connection will aggressively drain its rechargeable battery.

pic A full-sized iPod plugged into a Dock with FireWire dock cable attached.

When the battery icon is low, and whenever you want to disconnect the iPod from your computer, make sure to follow Apple’s directions for safely disconnecting the iPod from your PC or Mac. You can typically “Eject” the iPod by either using iTunes or selecting the iPod icon on your computer’s desktop. On a Mac, dropping the iPod in the trash can (which becomes an eject icon) will let you safely disconnect. On a PC, you can always right-click the “Safely Disconnect Hardware” icon in the bottom right corner of the screen to disconnect your iPod.

Step 3: Transferring Your Old Music to the iPod

Every iPod’s software CD includes iTunes, an easy to use program that looks the same on PCs and Macs. iTunes makes it easy to convert all of your CDs into individual digital song files that will be stored on the iPod. Load iTunes and pop a CD into your computer. The program will show you a collection of unnamed tracks, which you can name yourself or automatically. To auto-identify your CD tracks, connect to the Internet, then choose “Get CD Track Names” from the Advanced menu at the top of the screen.

pic A screenshot of iTunes 4.5 for Mac OS X. The PC version of iTunes looks virtually indistinguishable from the Mac version.

Next, you’ll select all of the tracks you want to copy (using the Alt key on PCs and the Apple/propeller key on Macs to pick individual tracks), and drag them into one of two locations in the iTunes window. The left side of the window shows one location called Library and another location named iPod, iPod mini, or whatever you’ve named the device.

When you drag the music from your CD, you can either drop the tracks onto your computer (“Library”) or directly onto your iPod. We recommend that you move tracks from CDs into your Library first, and transfer them to your iPod later. But you can go directly from CD to iPod if you prefer. In either case, it will take minutes (perhaps longer, depending on your computer) to convert the CD tracks into digital files.

If you’ve dropped the tracks into your Library, clicking on the left hand word Library will open the Library so that you can see what’s inside. Each time you insert a CD, it will appear in the list of left-hand links, and you just repeat the process above to add more of your CDs to your computer’s digital library. Once you’re done converting all of your CDs to digital files – a process that may take a full afternoon and evening – you can either fine tune your collection’s names and genres within the computer’s library, or immediately transfer everything over to the iPod.

What about audio cassette tapes, vinyl records, and other types of recordings? These sorts of transfers are more difficult to do on your own, but companies will do the transfers for you for a fee. A full list of service companies is available at

Step 4: Buying New Music and Audio Books for the iPod

Adding new music to the iPod is as simple as either buying new CDs and repeating the above process, or purchasing music online through Apple’s iTunes Music Store (iTMS). iTMS is integrated directly into iTunes, and appears as a “Music Store” link on the left hand bar. Connect to the Internet and click on the link to make the Music Store open. A search window at the top right of the iTunes window will help you find anything you might want to purchase, and once you find something you think you’ll like, you can hear a 30-second preview by clicking on it twice.

pic A screenshot of iTunes Music Store 4.5 for Mac OS X.

Under the heading “Price,” you’ll see a $0.99 cent listing and a button to “Buy Song” (or “Add Song” if you set the program up to use a shopping cart instead of instant purchasing). Once you click on the Buy Song button, iTunes will help you set up an account to purchase music if you haven’t already done so, and will download the file to your computer’s Library. On an older computer connection, this could take a few minutes; on a newer one, a few seconds. Once the file has been downloaded, you can transfer it to your iPod from the Library just as discussed above.

Alternately, you can purchase entire albums (typically $9.99), or use the shopping cart to accumulate all the tracks you want to buy before downloading them at once. The files will always wind up in your Library rather than directly on your iPod, just so that the chance of “losing” the music you downloaded (by accidentally erasing the iPod) is decreased. iTunes has built-in software that lets you burn your downloaded songs onto CDs, but you won’t really care so much about doing that once you have an iPod.

If you’re interested in listening to audio books, magazines, newspapers or pre-recorded radio shows with your iPod, a company called Audible has enjoyed great success in providing them via an online download service. Individual books are available at discounts off of their standard retail prices, and a monthly subscription-based service entitles subscribers to receive one book and one magazine per month, or two books per month at a fixed price. The iPod is entirely compatible with Audible’s service, and Audible even offers paid subscribers a $100 discount off the purchase of an iPod. Additional details are available at

Step 5: Using Your iPod’s Menus and Controls

The genius of the iPod is in its easy-to-use menus and controls. After choosing the language for your menus, the iPod presents you with a customizable main menu with two key options: “Browse” and “Settings.” You sweep your finger in circular motions across the iPod’s wheel to move up and down through the menu choices, and tap the button in the center of the wheel to select a menu choice and “go forward.” Pressing the “Menu” button brings you back to the last screen you were on, the equivalent of a “reverse” button.

Use the wheel and center button to select “Browse.” You’ll see a list of five choices: “Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, Composers.” Select any of these categories with the center button and you’ll see that the iPod has organized your music automatically, alphabetically, and by the type of list you selected. If you have the iPod sort by Album name, for example, you’ll instantly see a list of your albums in alphabetical order. Pick an album with the center button and you’ll see a list of songs. Clicking on any song with the center button will start the song playing. If you haven’t connected your headphones, plug them in and listen – you’ll be impressed. It’s so simple, and it sounds great even though you’ve shrunk all those CDs into something so tiny.

pic A full-sized iPod’s screen displaying the main menu. The iPod mini’s screen looks the same and uses the same menus, only with space for one less line of text.

When you’ve selected a song and it’s playing, you’re looking at the “Now Playing” screen. On that screen, you’ll see the song’s title and artist (on an iPod mini), and also the album’s name if you’re using a full-sized iPod. During playback, the iPod’s controls now allow you to skip forward and back between tracks using the buttons marked |>| (forward). You can pause the song with the button marked > ||. Resuming a paused song uses the same > || button, which stands for Play / Pause.

But more importantly, you can also adjust volume, easily change your current place in the track, and even rate the song for future reference. Volume is adjusted by sweeping your finger up or down across the wheel. Hit the center button once and a timeline will appear at the bottom of the screen. Sweep your finger up or down to move smoothly from the beginning to the middle to the end of the track. Do nothing and the volume control will reappear. Then, hit the center button twice and you’ll see five dots – move your finger up or down on the wheel to make 0-5 stars appear as a rating for the song. You can organize songs to play in order of ranking, too.

If you press the Menu button four or five times, you’ll return to the iPod’s “main menu,” where you should select the other important option: “Settings.” From this menu, you can completely customize the list of choices in the “main menu” by selecting that option, then picking “on” or “off” for each of the listings. We prefer to turn “Browse” off and turn “Artists,” “Albums,” “Songs” and “Genres” on, so that all of our favorite choices are on the main menu instead of hidden in the “Browse” menu we described above.

The Settings menu also allows you to adjust the iPod’s playback options, such as whether to use Shuffled (randomized) playback, whether to use an equalizer (EQ) to boost bass, treble and mid-range audio, and whether to use “Sound Check” to automatically fix the volume of your songs to prevent sudden changes up or down. You can also set the backlight timer, screen contrast, clicker sound, and date and time in Settings.

Press the menu button several times and you’ll come back to the main screen. There are plenty of other features to explore, including a few cute games, a simple text reader, and much more.

And of course, turning off the iPod is as simple as holding down the Play / Pause button for two seconds. But why would you ever want to turn off your new iPod?

Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school – ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.

Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting

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