The Complete Guide to the iPod shuffle

As the most stripped-down version of Apple’s iPod to date, the iPod shuffle represents an all-new philosophy in iPod design: its lack of a screen and touch-sensitive control wheel, combined with its low price and low capacity, make it an interesting new member of the iPod family in two fundamental ways.  First, it’s a low-risk way for new iPod owners to test the digital music waters.  Second, it is different enough – and cheap enough – to entice existing iPod owners as a supplemental unit for workouts or light travel.

Regardless of which of these two types of shuffle owner you may be, we hope you will find much of this iPod 101 tutorial useful.  New iPod owners users will find themselves better acquainted with iTunes, and existing iPod owners will see tips on how best to choose and transfer small portions of a large music library onto the iPod shuffle.

The Complete Guide to the iPod shuffle

Getting Started

The best way to get started with your brand new iPod shuffle is to ensure that you’re up-to-date.  At the time of this article, the iPod shuffle’s installation CD comes with the latest version of iTunes (4.7.1), but the iPod shuffle’s firmware has been updated to 1.1 – newer than what ships on current shuffles.  As we would for users of any new iPod, we recommend you begin your iPod shuffle experience by downloading the latest iPod Software Updater from Apple’s Website.

The iPod Software Updater is a very simple method of updating the software that runs on your iPod.  Download the software, and install it.  Next, plug your iPod shuffle into any powered USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 port (USB 2.0 has much faster transfer speeds, but is not required).  If you’re connecting your iPod shuffle to an unpowered USB hub, it may not mount properly; try connecting it to the computer directly.

The Software Updater will analyze your iPod and determine whether or not it needs to be updated.  If it does, the Software Updater will give the option of either “Updating” or “Restoring” your iPod.  “Restore” will wipe out all music and data on the iPod, while “Update” will write the firmware without distrubing the iPod’s content.  If this is a brand new iPod, it shouldn’t matter which method you use.

iTunes: Loading Music onto an iPod shuffle

For users new to iTunes, here are some supplementary tutorials for various ways of populating your music library that will be used to feed your iPod shuffle:

  • Importing CD Audio
  • Importing Windows Media Audio
  • Free Music for your iPod
    How does one transfer this music onto the iPod shuffle?  Perhaps an even better question is “How does one decide which songs to put onto the iPod shuffle?”  Thankfully, iTunes addresses both questions with a new, extremely easy-to-use feature:  Autofill.

    Connect your iPod shuffle, and it will appear in the Source List on the left of the main iTunes window.  (If it doesn’t, you may need to connect and disconnect your shuffle one time, and/or restart iTunes, before it appears.)

    Click on the name of your iPod shuffle.  The main iTunes window changes to a display of the songs that will be loaded onto the iPod.  (The order of the tracks displayed in this window is the order they’ll be played on the shuffle, if it is operating in sequential play mode).  You’ll also notice that there is a small control panel that appears at the bottom of the track list.


    This control panel allows super simple one-touch loading of the iPod, with the option of a bit more power should you choose to use it.  How does one use the control panel?  The following is a breakdown of the different Autofill features:
    • Autofill from:  This item allows you to choose the “pool” from which Autofill selects music automatically.  Choose your entire library, and there’s no telling what you get.  Narrow the selection to a specific playlist, and you can focus on a specific mood, tempo, genre, or more.  Smart playlists can be a wonderful solution, when used as Autofill sources.  For now, audiobooks are skipped by Autofill, but to keep other large files (WAV files, AIFF files, etc.) off your space-limited iPod shuffle, try making a “Shuffle Tunes” playlist that looks like the following:


      In selecting a smart playlist, note that the iPod shuffle will only update Play Count, leaving “Last Played” dates and times unchanged due to its lack of an internal clock.
    • Choose songs randomly:  This item, when checked, will instruct Autofill to choose a random assortment of music from the library or playlist selected from the pull-down menu.  Uncheck this item, and Autofill will place as many tracks as it can into the iPod shuffle, in order.
    • Choose higher rated songs more often:  A fairly simple feature, yet one which is very useful.  Check this item, and you’ll see more of the music you enjoy more.  The only catch?  iTunes isn’t psychic… if you rate your songs, this feature will be very useful!
    • Replace all songs when Autofilling:  This item is truly a subtle gem in the Autofill feature:  Enable it, and you get a fresh mix each time you sync.  Disable it, and Autofill will simply “top off” the iPod shuffle, leaving any manual additions you’ve made untouched.

      Configure Autofill how you want it using this miniature control panel, and click the Autofill button.  iTunes will then choose music and load it directly onto the iPod shuffle.

      Sure, Autofill is wonderful, but what if that’s a bit too much uncertainty, even for an iPod shuffle owner?  What about that one favorite song that you just have to have on your shuffle at all times, or that new album you’d like to listen to on the bus in its entirety?  Thankfully, Autofill is not the only way to load an iPod shuffle.  In standard Apple style, virtually anything in iTunes can be dragged-and-dropped onto the iPod shuffle icon in the source list.  These include, of course, songs and playlists, as well as Genre, Artist, and Album titles found in the “Browse” feature of the iTunes library.  Many shuffle users will enjoy this ability to manually place several items on the iPod shuffle and use the non-destructive Autofill option mentioned above to fill unused space.

      Finally, iTunes has added a capability we’ve been hoping for: you can manipulate the contents of your iPod shuffle when it is not connected to the computer.  Autofill, drag-and-drop, or delete songs to your satisfaction, and upon connecting your iPod shuffle, the necessary changes will be made automatically.  To enable this feature, connect your iPod shuffle, and enter the iPod Preferences page by clicking the iPod icon in the bottom right hand corner of the iTunes window.  Check “Keep this iPod in the source list.”

      Using the iPod shuffle as a Portable Hard Drive
      Like other iPods, the iPod shuffle can be used as a portable hard drive.  The average person is more likely to use this feature with the shuffle than with other iPods, because unlike them, the iPod shuffle does not require the user to carry a connection cable, and it works equally well on Macs and PCs without drivers or reformatting.

      By default, the ability to access the iPod shuffle as a hard drive is disabled.  To enable it, enter the iPod Preferences page as we did above. 



      Here you’ll find an option entitled “Enable Disk Use.”  When checked, iTunes will allow the iPod shuffle to appear in Windows Explorer (or the Mac OS’s Finder) as a detachable hard drive.  The slider positioned below the checkbox instructs iTunes how much space to leave empty for data when filling the iPod via either Autofill or manual management.  For example, in the photo above, we’ve reserved 128MB for non-audio use.  Autofill will only fill the other 380-some Megabytes with music.

      Why don’t I have the full drive capacity I paid for?

      Using either Windows Explorer or the iTunes capacity bar at the bottom of the iPod shuffle page, you’ll notice that your iPod shuffle is reporting a slightly smaller total hard drive capacity than the number on the box.  Don’t worry… this is completely normal for all storage media.

      Contrary to popular belief, this anomaly is not caused by factory-installed programs, file system overhead, or swap space… it’s an unfortunate consequence of little more than math and marketing.

      Hard drives are sold and marketed using decimal gigabytes. That is, a “GB” consists of 1,000,000,000 bytes.  However, computers interpret gigabytes in binary. To a computer, 1 GB = 2^30 bytes, or 1,073,741,824 bytes.

      The ratio of “actual” to “marketed” file size is the ratio of these two interpretations, or roughly 0.931.

      Therefore, a 512MB iPod shuffle actually has 0.9313225*512MB, or about 476.8MB of space usable to a computer.  A 1GB iPod shuffle will similarly report approximately 953.7MB.

      iPod shuffle:  Operation Tips

      Though it may be the simplest iPod yet, there are a few key iPod shuffle operation techniques worth discussing:

      • On the rear of your shuffle, you’ll see that the main slider has two “On” positions.  The first is “sequential play,” and the second is “shuffle.”  Use sequential play mode if you’re not “Enjoying Uncertainty” at the moment.  You can, for example, switch modes from shuffle to sequential play during a song (if you just have to hear the rest of that album!) and it won’t be disrupted.  You’ll continue sequentially.
      • When listening to a playlist sequentially, press Play three times quickly to return to the very beginning of the play order.
      • When listening to a playlist in shuffle mode, press Play three times quickly to re-randomize the play order.
      • When listening to the first song in the play order, you can navigate backwards to go straight to the final song.  This is helpful for quickly getting to songs you know are near the end of your play order.
      • Hold down the “Play/Pause” button for a few seconds, and you’ll see the front LED flash orange.  This “locks” all buttons, putting the iPod into hold mode.  This is especially helpful when carrying an active iPod shuffle in a pocket where buttons are likely to be accidentally pressed.  Hold “Play/Pause” again to deactivate hold mode.
      • Under Firmware 1.1 and greater, the iPod shuffle will automatically pause when headphones are removed.  Push “Play” to resume audio.

        iPod shuffle: Understanding the Lights

        Your iPod shuffle has two LED lights on its front side – one orange and one green – that indicate what it is doing.  On the rear of the shuffle, there is another set of colored indicators for battery life.  Here’s a quick guide to interpreting them both (a reference card is also provided in your box):

        Front Light

        • Flashing Orange:  Connected and mounted.  Do not Disconnect.
        • Solid Orange:  Charging / Not mounted.  Ok to Disconnect.
        • Flashing Green:  Paused.
        • Solid Green:  Fully Charged.
        • Flashing Green/Orange:  No music or some other problem:  Load music, cycle the iPod on and off, or restore your iPod.
        • Solid Green on button press:  Normal operation… a simple indicator.
        • Solid Orange on button press:  Hold is active.  Deactivate it by holding Play/Pause.