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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 2 Issue 11 November 2008
In This Issue
Should I get an iPod?
You've probably heard about the iPod, Apple's little music player. Should you get one? Would you use it?
Should I get an iPod?

The very short answer
If you love the idea of taking hundreds (or even thousands) of songs that you like and carrying them with you in a portable player that fits in the palm of your hand, then you may really enjoy getting an iPod, learning how to use it, and having your music library at your fingertips.

What's an iPod?
Apple's iPod products are small, battery-powered, digital media players. They're not the only brand of digital players on the market, but since their introduction in 2001 they have become the most popular. All iPod models can store and play music and spoken-word recordings (often called "audiobooks"), and many models can also handle videos.

iPods are also called "MP3 players," after a particular digital audio file format (MP3 or "MPEG-1 Audio Layer," designed by the Motion Pictures Expert Group). This is actually a misnomer. Most MP3 players (including iPods) can handle a wide variety of digital audio formats, not just MP3.

What's it like to use an iPod?
Using an iPod boils down to 3 basic steps:
  • Acquire: Get the songs (recordings, videos, etc.) you want into your computer in digital form
  • Sync: Transfer some or all of those songs from your computer to your iPod
  • Play: Listen to your songs on your iPod
The cable you use to connect your iPod to your computer (USB on current models, FireWire on older models) also recharges the iPod's battery while it's connected.

Most iPods don't have built-in speakers, but they do come with tiny "earbud" headphones, or you can use your own headphones or speakers. You can also get a large assortment of accessories, including carrying cases and connections to home and car sound systems.

Once you've transferred your songs into your iPod and connected your headphones or speakers, you play your songs using the iPod's buttons, including play, pause, rewind, fast forward, volume control and others, depending on the model.

iTunes software: Song, iPod, and store manager
To manage your iPod, you install Apple's free iTunes software on your computer, available for both Macintosh and Windows computers:
  • iTunes manages your computer's music "library," including not only your songs but also each song's Artist, Album, Genre (e.g., Classical vs. Rock), and more.
  • When you connect your iPod to your computer with its cable, iTunes lets you transfer ("Sync") some or all of your music into your iPod.
  • iTunes gives you access to the Apple iTunes Store, one of many legal sources of songs on the internet. You can buy and download a huge selection of individual songs for 99 cents apiece, even less per song if you buy entire albums.
  • iTunes has many other functions, including the ability to play your music using your computer (through its speakers), as well as "tuning in" to live radio broadcasts over the internet from many participating radio stations.
Where do I get songs for my iPod?
The most common sources for digital music I've seen are:
  • Importing from CDs you already own; it takes about 10 minutes to copy the music from one CD into iTunes, and then about 20 seconds to transfer that CD's music into an iPod
  • Downloading from paid sources on the internet
  • Downloading from free sources on the internet
With the right equipment, you can also digitize (convert to digital form) recordings from vinyl records and cassette tapes, but this is time-consuming and somewhat complicated.

What about copyrights?
From what I've read on the Recording Industry Association of America's web site (http://www.riaa.com) and elsewhere:
  • Buying music on CDs or online and then copying it into your computer or portable player (such as an iPod) "is a common activity which can generally be done without legal consequences."
  • Distributing copyrighted music to other people without authorization (i.e., without the permission of the copyright owner) is breaking the law.
Thus, you should be careful when downloading from free sources on the internet, uploading to file-sharing sites, if a friend offers to give you their music, or asks for a copy of yours.

What's a podcast?
The term "podcast" (combining "iPod" and "broadcast") originally referred to audio or video files that were distributed as part of a (usually free) subscription series and downloaded to your computer and your iPod, but now it has come to also mean any individual episode of a series that you can get without any need to subscribe. The earliest podcasts were from individuals distributing radio-style shows. They've now evolved into wider uses, including actual radio shows, educational and self-help segments, industry news, performances, interviews, television shows (video podcasts) etc., as well as podcasts that review the most interesting podcasts!

Which model of iPod should I get?
There are too many iPod models to list here, but the most important features are:
  • Storage capacity for music: How many songs do you want to carry? Each gigabyte (gb) holds about 250 songs, so an 8gb iPod holds 2,000 songs, an 80gb iPod holds 20,000 songs, etc. To estimate fitting your existing CD collection into an iPod, take the number of CDs, multiply by an average of about 13 songs per CD, and then divide by 250 songs per gb. Add a margin for future growth (and music you may download) and you'll get an estimate of your iPod storage need for music in gigabytes. Current iPod capacities range from 1 to 120 gigabytes, about 250 to 30,000 songs.
  • Storage capacity for videos, audiobooks, etc.: If you like books, television, and movies, you may enjoy having those on your iPod as well, so consider adding another 5 to 20gb to your estimate.
  • Size and weight: There are two types of storage inside an iPod: miniature hard disks and solid-state memory. Hard disks weigh more and take more physical space, but they cost less. Solid-state storage is smaller and lighter, but costs more. iPods currently range in weight from 0.5 to 5.7 ounces. Sizes range from about the size of your thumb to the size of your hand.
  • Screen: iPods with screens let you choose the songs to play by Title, Artist, Album, etc., and they also support downloading and playing videos. iPods without screens (such as the iPod "shuffle") are smaller, simpler, and cheaper, but give you fewer playback options.
  • Price: Expect to pay more for an iPod than other brands, but most people find them quite easy to use. New iPod models currently range from $49 to $399. However, the most expensive current model (the 32gb iPod "touch") doesn't have the highest capacity, it has the highest-tech feature set: solid-state storage, a larger screen, and wireless internet.
  • Other features: Most iPods can also store other types of computer files, including pictures, documents, and more, just like external disk drives, but this will reduce the amount of available space for your music and videos.
  • Do you already have an Apple iPhone, or are you thinking about getting one? Then you should know that every iPhone is also an iPod!
Taking care of your iPod's battery
Since an iPod runs on a rechargeable battery, all of my previous advice applies (see "Hot Summer Tips: Don't Leave It in Your Car!" http://kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_08_01.html for more details):
  • Don't leave it in your car to bake or freeze.
  • Don't leave it constantly connected and charging.
  • While it should last a number of years, the battery won't last forever. iPods aren't designed for easy replacement of the battery, but it can be done, for example through Apple's Battery Replacement program (http://www.apple.com/batteries/replacements.html) or by a competent third party such as a Batteries Plus store (http://www.batteriesplus.com).
Where to go from here
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2008 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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