Q: I recently got my old fourth-generation iPod out of retirement. I plugged it into my PC and it was recognised and iTunes started up. iTunes then recommended an update for my iPod and I had that installed. A plug icon then showed up on my iPod so I plugged it into the mains. The plug icon will not go away, when I try to reset my iPod the Apple logo comes up, I press play and then a battery with an exclamation mark comes up. I’ve been told it’s a battery issue. Have you ever come across this?
A: This was a actually a pretty common problem with the old fourth-generation iPod. Early iPod models only charged over a 12-volt FireWire connection, and the fourth-generation iPod was actually the first model to allow for both USB synchronization and charging. Unfortunately, for whatever reason Apple didn’t extend that USB power compatibility to the actual firmware update process.
Basically, the second stage of the firmware update requires that the iPod be connected to a power source to ensure the battery doesn’t go dead while it’s flashing the internal ROM chips, however the update process fails to recognize a USB connection as a valid power source, accepting only the 12-volt FireWire connection. Originally, this wasn’t a big problem as these iPod models shipped with a FireWire-based charger that could be used to complete the restore process. The plug icon essentially meant, “Connect your iPod to the wall adapter” which would have been a 12-volt FireWire connection.
Of course, with every iPod released since 2005 now using USB charging only, FireWire cables and adapters have become much more difficult to locate. Sadly, finding a FireWire power source is still the only solution to completing the firmware update process. You will need to find a Dock Connector to FireWire cable and either a FireWire plug adapter or a powered FireWire port on a computer. It’s also worth noting that many older accessories such as speakers also have Dock Connectors that provide 12-volt FireWire charging power, so this might also be worth a try if you have one of these accessories around.