Third-party iPod management tools

Q: There is very little information on third party iPod syncing software in your reviews or anywhere on your site. Why is that? Surely there are companies that offer significantly better software than iTunes. My biggest resistance to using my iPod touch (and formerly my iPod) are the limitations of having to use iTunes.

– Rick

A: Although there are a number of alternatives to iTunes for iPod management, there are some important things to keep in mind about these applications.

The first and most important consideration is that third-party iPod management tools are not supported in any way by Apple themselves. The wide range of applications that are available to access and manage iPod content often leads people to believe that these are Apple-sanctioned alternatives to iTunes, but the reality is that Apple does not provide any specifications for third-party software applications to manage iPod content. Applications providing this capability have been developed purely by reverse-engineering the iPod file system and synchronization protocols, and not through any information or developer support provided by Apple themselves. Most of these third-party tools do what they claim to do when released, and to date, Apple has not taken steps to completely prevent these tools from working. However, since they are not officially supported, there is always the possibility that new iPod models or even firmware updates to existing models will break compatibility with these applications, and in fact, this has happened a number of times, and will likely continue to happen in the future.

The most recent example of this was the iPod classic and iPod nano (video) models last fall. In this case, Apple made changes to the structure of the iPod database and added a checksum field to help improve the the database integrity when synchronizing with iTunes. The result of this change broke just about every third-party iPod management application available until the developers could examine the new database structure and update their applications accordingly.

The second consideration is that iTunes is designed alongside the iPod itself, and when new iPod features are introduced, a new version of iTunes is simultaneously released to take advantage of these new features. Again, since there is no developer support for third-party iPod management applications, these normally lag far behind iTunes in their support for new iPod features. For instance, there are still many decent and usable iPod management applications available that do not provide support for album artwork, audiobooks, or videos.

A number of iPod management utilities can be found in our Software Downloads section. Further, some of our articles do discuss some iTunes alternatives for providing functions that iTunes itself does not deliver, such as copying content from your iPod back to your computer, but the reality is that most third-party iPod management applications do not work nearly as well as iTunes does for providing the full range of content management on your iPod.

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