Secrets of the iPod - Second Edition
Posted: 13-Jun-2003

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: PeachPit Press

C+

Reviewer: Diane Love $21.99


Secrets of the iPod - Second Edition

By Christopher Breen
ISBN: 0-321-16783-X
Published: DEC, 2002, 240 pages
List Price: $21.99

What the Book is About
In the introduction, the author describes his disappointment when a new iPod was released 2 weeks after the first edition of this book hit the shelves in July 2002. He managed to get the 2nd edition out precisely 5 months later and this time was granted a few months' respite before Apple rendered his work out of date again by introducing new and somewhat different iPods. Perhaps this review will be equally short lived as a 3rd edition must now surely be in progress.

Initially it was a surprise to discover that someone thought there was enough in the iPod to fill a whole, albeit slim, book. However, the 8 chapters thoroughly explore the following topics:
Contents of iPod package and user interface
  • iPod and iTunes (for Mac users)
  • iPod and MusicMatch Jukebox (for PC users)
  • iPod as a removable drive
  • iPod as a contact manager
  • iPod as a calendar
  • Accessories
  • Troubleshooting

Target Audience
This book is intended for iPod owners using both Macintosh and Windows platforms. It covers all iPod models and software that had been produced at the time of publication, ie 5, 10 and 20 GB iPods with software updater up to version 1.2.

The book starts with the unlikely scenario that you are reading it while you are awaiting the arrival of your mail ordered iPod. While some sections would appear most useful to prospective buyers, I'd also be surprised if anyone would actually buy this book before they'd made their mind up about buying an iPod. I conclude that most readers will already own an iPod.

The book was published before the introduction of the new 15 and 30 iPods with the docking stations. As there appear to be numerous differences in the hardware and software, owners of these new iPods would be advised to hold out for a new edition of this book.

What to Expect
There are many aspects of the iPod that are amazing not only what it has and does, but what has been left out. The book captures some of the amazement, but by no means all, and fails to address some existential questions:
  • how come Apple thought people would spend all this money on a display-only device whose data has to be edited on a separate computer ?
  • how come PDA manufacturers are still charging all that money for devices with a paltry few megabytes of RAM ?

...and some possible areas for concern:
  • the battery is sealed in - what if it fails? how long will it last?
  • how come there's a 10,000 foot altitude limit? I want to take my iPod skiing above 12,000 feet!
  • what's the best way to manage an iPod with a computer that only has 1GB to spare for music ?

The first chapter covers the content of the iPod box and the user interface. This may be necessary for completeness, but on the whole I was able to identify the box contents for myself and was able to figure out the user interface without any further help. As a goal of user interface design is to make a product's functions so obvious that the user doesn't need a manual, it seems counterproductive to produce a manual for a product that has so admirably succeeded.

The second chapter starts by covering use of iTunes to load music onto the iPod. Again, this is something most iPod users would already know or would figure out without a manual. More useful are the suggestions about where to find legal free music on the web, how to use the Sound Check feature and what would have to do if you decided to get started with Audible.com.

Chapter 3 covers the same ground for PC users, however the author is considerate enough to start with the purchase, installation and configuration of a firewire PCI card in case the PC doesn't have one. Alternatives to the MusicMatch Jukebox application in the Windows iPod box are also discussed.

Chapter 4 starts out with use of the iPod as a Mac firewire drive, (another thing that might be considered obvious), and then launches into a detailed description of how and why you may want to to make the iPod into a bootable drive in OS 9, OS X 10.1.x and OS X 10.2.x. After a discussion of what you should and should not legally do with the music on your iPod, it then uncovers the true secret of the iPod how to get at the music files that you can't see on the hard disk, using a variety of third party software.

Chapters 5 and 6 contain thorough details about transferring contacts, calendar and other text information to the iPod from a variety of sources using a variety of software. There is also a long sidebar on how people used to store contacts in zero length MP3 files with contact information in the ID3 tags - entertaining but ultimately useless now that the iPod can display contact information in vcf format.

The benefit of these chapters may be in helping people to compare the options for contact and calendar management strategy. The huge omission is whether it's much use to carry a read-only diary. If you meet someone and want to write down a name and address or add an appointment to your calendar, you have to use a writable medium like a PDA or ordinary paper!

Chapter 7 covers accessories including cases, earphones, chargers and various connecting cables and more. There were a scant few items in here that I hadn't seen on the web or the Apple Store but a lot of this is Egg Sucking 101 for anyone who had a Walkman before iPods appeared.

Highlights of the Book
Probably the most mesmerizing sections are in chapter 8 where the author describes disassembly of original iPods, the prospects for fitting a larger hard drive or changing a battery and the results of drop testing an iPod under various circumstances until it flew into pieces - and what happened when it was reassembled. Chapter 4 also has concentrated information on operating system installation and file structure.

Other useful nuggets include: how to recover if someone sets your iPod user interface to a language that you can't read, dealing with iPod freezes and crashes and hacking vcf files. A final nice touch is that the author has put some of his own music on the web for his readers to download.

Mac Guild Grade
C+ Good

Final Words
If you only use your iPod for music and don't have any ambitions to boot a Mac from it or take it to pieces, you are probably getting along fine without this book. If you have a 2003 iPod, you should definitely wait for a new edition of the book. If you are unable to operate your iPod or iApps without a manual OR you can neither get to an Apple store nor use your wits and Google to find iPod accessories on the web, then this book may be of interest. The same goes for the person who wants to disassemble, reassemble or boot off of their 2002 iPod.