iPod Connection and Synchronization


The iPod 101 Series was created as an introductory course for Mac and PC users totally new to iTunes.  We’ve covered many topics we have felt to be the most fundamental to the enjoyment of digital music in iTunes.  Here’s a full list of what we’ve covered so far:

iPod Connection and Synchronization

iPod 101 Course List:

  • How to import CD tracks into iTunes
  • How to create playlists in iTunes
  • How to create smart playlists in iTunes
  • How to burn a CD in iTunes
  • Tagging Songs in iTunes
  • Adding album art in iTunes
  • Printing CD covers and lists in iTunes
  • Using Party Shuffle in iTunes
  • Importing Windows Media Audio into iTunes
  • Using the iTunes Music Store
    This week, we take iLounge’s basic iTunes training series to a new level.  This article launches the next part in our tutorial series.  Appropriately named “iPod 201,” this course will feature the same in-depth tutorial content, but will cover more iPod-specific tips and more advanced iTunes features.  Currently on the syllabus are:
    • iPod Connection and Synchronization
    • Copying music from your iPod to your PC
    • Using the PDA features of your iPod
    • Relocating your iTunes Music Library
    • Audible content?  eBooks?  Submit your ideas!
      At iLounge, we are looking forward to the iPod 201 series… we hope you enjoy it!

      iPod Synchronization

      One of the main reasons that the iPod has become the dominant portable MP3 player is its extreme simplicity.  The iPod’s simplicity is not just in the navigation of its menus… the synchroniztion process can be very simple, in most cases. 

      Simply plug in your iPod for the first time, follow the easy pop-up instructions, and your whole library transfers to your iPod at 3-4 songs per second (via Firewire or USB 2.0).  Thereafter, it’s even easier—as soon as you plug in the iPod, iTunes launches and any changes in your library are seemingly immediately transferred to your iPod, all without you moving the mouse or touching one key.

      However, this “Automatic Sync” mode is not the best choice for some iPod users.  Often, users will have too large a library for the iPod to hold.  In this case, for example, one should use another synchronization method.  Here, we’ll cover the purpose and use of the three main synchronization methods, and their advantages and disadvantages.

      Getting Started:  The First Sync

      To begin your first synchronization with your computer, make sure you have installed iTunes. (…and completed iPod 101?)

      Then, simply plug in your iPod.  Depending on your iPod model, you may have several options as to how to do so:

      • 1G/2G iPod – Firewire Only
      • 3G iPod – Firewire via included cable OR USB 2.0 via add-on combo cable
      • iPod mini – Firewire OR USB2.0 via included cables
      • 4G iPod – Firewire OR USB2.0 via included cables
        If your computer does not have USB2.0 or Firewire, you’re likely going to want to purchase an add-on card which supports one of them (PCI for desktops, PCMCIA for laptops).  Note that it is possible to use a USB2.0-capable iPod on the far more ubiquitous USB 1.1, but file transfers will be excruciatingly slow, and therefore is not something we tend to recommend.

        Once you have your hardware connection chosen, connect your iPod.  Upon doing so, iTunes will launch and present you with the following setup dialog:

        Here, you can name your iPod, Register your iPod, and select whether or not you’d like Automatic Syncing.  Automatic syncing will, upon clicking OK, load your iPod with your entire library of music.  If your existing library happens to be too large for your iPod, and you select Automatic Syncing, iTunes will you present you with the following dialog, create a selection of music that fits, and put your iPod in “Semi-Automatic” mode, which we’ll discuss later.



        If you chose not to select “Automatic Syncing” on your initial setup dialog, you’ll be in “Manual Mode,” which we’ll also discuss in detail below. 

        Worry not… regardless of which method you pick in this first dialog box, you can easily switch between the three main methods easily at any time.

        Let’s move beyond the initial setup and take an in-depth look at each of the three syncing methods, and how to switch between them.

        Automatic Syncing:  A Mirror Image

        Automatic mode is, by far, the most popular method of managing music on the iPod due to its “hands-off” simplicity.

        In this mode, the iPod and your iTunes library are essentially perfect mirror images of one another.  All of your songs are in both locations.  All of your playlists are the same.  Ratings and playcounts transfer both directions.  Even Audible.com bookmarks sync both ways, so you always pick up where you left off.

        In most cases, if you have enough space on your iPod, automatic syncing is the way to go.

        Note:  When in automatic syncing, you’ll notice that if you select your iPod in the Source column, all the songs are “greyed-out” and inaccessible.  This is normal.  You can’t access the music on your iPod directly when in this mode.  However, because your iPod is a mirror image of your iTunes library, you really have no reason to do so, anyway.

        It is worth mentioning that because in this mode (and Semi-Automatic, below) iTunes and the iPod maintain copies of each other, songs cannot be deleted from iTunes and be expected to stay on the iPod after the next sync.  If you need to delete music off of your computer (to save hard drive space, for example), you’ll need to use Manual Syncing, described last.

        It is also worth mentioning that the “Automatic” updates only take place when the iPod is first plugged in for each session.  If you have plugged in the iPod and made changes to your library, you’ll have to manually initiate the update sync.  To do so, right click on the iPod in the source column, and select “Update Songs.”

        Semi-Automatic Syncing:  Selected Playlists Only

        This mode can be useful for users with libraries larger than their iPods who still prefer a very simple, low-maintenance way to keep their iPod updated.

        In this mode, you can select certain playlists to “automatically” synchronize with the iPod.  This can become very useful when used with Smart Playlists.  For example, create a few smart playlists, and limit each of them to a certain total file size.  Ensure that the sum of these maximum file sizes add up to the size of your iPod, and you have an easy way to keep your iPod full of music you like, without any hassle.

        This method does have its limitations, however.  Not the least of these is the inability to create additional playlists on the iPod from the music that is on it.  Say, for example, that you have selected 4 playlists to automatically synchronize with the iPod.  These will be the only playlists on your iPod.

        Like Automatic Syncing, you cannot access the songs on the iPod directly, but—again—you don’t need to, as all of the iPod’s songs are in the iTunes library.

        To enter this mode, plug in your iPod, and click the fourth button from the right, in the bottom right hand corner.  This is the iPod Settings button, and has an iPod icon on it:



        Clicking this will open the iPod Settings window, which allows you to select between the three synchronization methods.  Choose “Selected Playlists Only” for this mode:



        Upon clicking “Done,” your changes will be made, and the iPod re-updated.

        Manual Update

        This method is the least intuitive method of syncing an iPod to iTunes, but is useful in several instances.

        If your desktop’s (or laptop’s, more likely) hard drive space is running thin, Manual Updating mode will allow you to load your iPod with music, and proceed to delete the original copies from your computer.  (iLounge tends to recommend buying additional hard drive space and using an automatic method, purely because this habit of “sync and delete” is sure to wipe out a user’s music library due to loss or failure of the iPod.  Do this at your own risk.)

        To switch to manual mode, use the same control panel described in the section on “Selected Playlists Only” above.

        In manual updating, songs and playlists from your iTunes library are dragged (manually) onto your iPod in the Source column on the left side of iTunes.  If the songs contained in the drag selection are not already on the iPod, they will be transferred appropriately.  If they are already on the iPod, then no duplicate copy will be created, as iTunes keeps track—drag as you please without worrying about duplicates.

        Manual updating also allows you to have different playlists on your iPod and iTunes.  To create an iPod playlist, select your iPod in the Source column on the left, and click the new playlist button, or select “New Playlist…” from the File menu.

        With manual updating, you’ll notice that all songs on the iPod are fully editable and playable.  This allows you to listen to music directly off of the iPod, through the iTunes interface.  While the files can’t be copied to the computer due to copy restrictions, it is nice to listen to your iPod through the iTunes interface.

        Another advantage of Manual mode is that songs can be added to (and listened to off of) the iPod from any computer.  Manual updating does not exclusively tie the iPod to any one computer, as does “Automatic” and “Selected Playlists Only.”

        There is one crucial limitation that accompanies Manual Modes to keep separate collections on the computer and the iPod, and this is that ratings & playcounts do not synchronize from the iPod back to the computer.  For those who frequently listen to the iPod and use Smart Playlists often, this is a significant bummer.

        If you like the additional control, the ability to delete your original music, and the ability to load the iPod from multiple computers, but don’t mind your ratings & playcounts being out of sync, then Manual mode may be for you.

        Using the iPod as a Hard Drive

        When in the iPod Settings window, you’ll notice the option to “Enable Disk Use.”  When checked, this allows the iPod to show up in the Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (Windows) as a standard removable hard drive.  (In Manual Sync mode, Disk Use is always enabled).

        When the iPod is displayed as a hard drive, you are free to use it for whatever you’d like to do:  Backups, file transfer, etc.

        You won’t, however, be able to access the music directory easily (enable “Show Hidden Files”).  If you do manage to find the music files, it is best not to tamper with them directly, as you may corrupt the database, requiring you to restore the iPod entirely.

        It is important to note that when disk use is enabled, you must manually unmount the iPod before you unplug it.  To do so, select the iPod in the source column, and click the eject button in the bottom right of the main iTunes window:



        Notes & Tips:

        • You can monitor your iPod’s hard disc usage at the bottom of the iTunes window:

        • You will notice that your iPod’s hard drive capacity is less than the number on the box.  This is normal.  Contrary to explanations often offered, the file system is not to blame for this discrepancy… marketing is.  The iPod, like any hard drive for any manufacturer, is marketed in decimal gigabytes.  In a decimal gigabytes, 1,000,000,000 bytes is 1 GB.  All computer hardware, however, uses 1024 bytes per kilobyte, 1024 kilobytes per megabyte, and so on.  For example, see the calculation for a “10GB” iPod, which yields around 9.3 GB of computer-interpreted space:



          Jerrod H. is a Forum Administrator and Contributing Editor for iLounge.

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Jerrod H.

Jerrod was a contributing editor at iLounge. He mostly wrote articles about iTunes and iPod accessories. He was known for his in-depth knowledge of both topics and was often able to provide readers with unique insights into the world of Apple products.