How to copy mp3s to an iPod without a computer?
August 24, 2007 7:41 AM   Subscribe

iPod dreams and hacks. I'm in a band and we'd love to give out "demos" via an iPod at shows. We're envisioning a Device that may exist, may need to be hacked together, or may be fundamentally impossible to create.

The concept... the Device should be a simple, handheld storage device that transfers the contents of its memory to the iPod through the standard 30-pin iPod dock connector. Thus, we could put our mp3s on people's iPods without having a traditional computer/iTunes interface. We would bring this Device to shows and hand out 21st century demos.

Haven't found anything on Google. The resources I've come across so far indicate that "With the dock connector the iPod can be...connected to a serial device and controlled via the Apple Accessory Protocol". I don't know how to interpret much of that info, but would be curious to learn how, if it would help us build this mythical Device.

Does this Device exist? Is its existence possible? Any advice on building one? Thanks and let me know if I can provide clarification.
posted by pants to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can a smaller-than-a-laptop device be built to do this? Sure, but it might be cheaper and simpler to just get the smallest laptop you can.

I think you might have a different problem if people feel the need to bring their iPods with them to your shows though. Either that or I'm just old.
posted by yohko at 7:48 AM on August 24, 2007

I'd go with bluetooth (for phones) and WiFi (for laptops and phones).
posted by Leon at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2007

People who have iPods often take them everywhere, yohko. They did, after all, have to get to the show somehow, or get to where they were meeting people for the show, and it's likely they might have had a few minutes of quiet, alone time on a subway or something where they wanted to listen.

Can you clarify why a cheap laptop is not the right solution for you? It might help people figure out what you do need.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:57 AM on August 24, 2007

The hope was that we could find something handheld. Even the iLoad is larger than ideal. The problem with the iLoad is that you have to have the hard copy of the media available on CD. With the number of strange iPod hacks out there, something that could fit in an Altoids tin (fer instance) would be perfect.

As for the premise - the demographic we're playing to is definitely the type that would have their iPods with them nearly as often as they'd have cell phones.

A cheap laptop may end up being the solution we use - but the concept of a handheld device that copies mp3s to iPod is one that I'm really curious about, even from a theoretical standpoint. It's entirely possible that the materials and time necessary to build a Device that meets these ideals is far more than the cost of buying a cheap laptop. I'd like to know what would be involved in building one, if possible.
posted by pants at 8:04 AM on August 24, 2007

There is this thing that was reviewed on iLounge. Having said that, the review is pretty horrible and they give it a C-, ending up by basically saying it is a POS and you would be better off with a cheap laptop.

However I guess it does prove the concept of what you are looking for (more or less)
posted by worker_bee at 8:08 AM on August 24, 2007

and in the time it takes me to type, you link to the iLoad!
posted by worker_bee at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2007

I think this is as close as you will be able to get due to Apple's lockdown on the iPod and iTunes:

You can simply bring one of the 3 or so types of iPod connection cords and have your demo as music files on a laptop.

Then you would transfer an MP3 (or whatever) to their iPod as a Removable Harddrive Disc (i.e. not through iTunes). When then get home they imput it as a song through their iTunes. They could also bring flashdrives, other music players etc. Really anything with storage that will hook-up to a computer through USB, Firewire, and the iPod cords.

The obvious disadvantage is that people could not play your demo immediately upon receiving it, they would have to copy it to their home computer and input the songs through iTunes.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2007

Your fundamental problem is what 2bucksplus describes. It's possible for you to put MP3s onto an iPod, and probably even possible (though difficult) to add them to the iPod's internal database so they're playable. However, syncing the iPod with iTunes is one way - the songs won't be transferred to their PC when they sync, they'll be deleted.

If you want people to be able to add your songs to their iTunes, you need to put them on their iPod in "disk mode", then have them pull them off and add to iTunes. Come to think of it, you might be able to have it both ways; force the songs into the database so they can play them right away, and also put a copy in the "disk mode" area so they can pick it up when they get home.

As far as something handheld, I'd just sort of punt and use a Gumstix micro-computer with USB and a modified Apple USB->iPod cable. Plug the iPod in and the computer can do whatever it's been programmed to do (which programming is non-trivial in itself.)
posted by pocams at 8:23 AM on August 24, 2007

Here's a good set of scripts for updating/synching iPods for Linux-ish systems. You could use these (or some other 3rd party library) on a computer (possibly headless?) with a small form factor. You will need a computer of some sort, as the device will not only need to be able to access file systems (both FAT and HFS!) but also manipulate the iPod's internal database.

Aside from the problems that pocams describe, there's also this: The kind of device-to-device copy you want to do is a feature Apple has specifically disallowed, even for licensed peripheral makers (probably to mitigate record industry concerns over piracy). Third party APIs may support the feature, and that's one reason that Apple does not (AFAIK) support any third party APIs for adding and changing content on the iPod. Any such APIs you might find are unsupported by Apple, so newer iPod models might not work with them, and existing iPods might have unknown quirks or limitations that haven't been taken into account. Because of this, there's always a chance that your device could corrupt the iPod's database, or otherwise render it unusable (which would not make for a very good demo). Just a warning.
posted by aparrish at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2007

people solved the problem of adding files to the iPod database without iTunes a long time ago. The challenge is ease of use. This actually sounds like it could be a cool open source project you could attract developers to if you don't require an obscure hardware platform to run it.

How would the logistics of this work at the show though? How long are people willing to wait to get their turn? How are you going to make sure that people don't walk off with your cool handheld
posted by Good Brain at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2007

Easy Solution: just add the mp3 files to your website for download.

Certainly not as cool as the ipod thing but you’re still getting your music out.
posted by doorsfan at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2007

I applaud the ambition, but for the state of technology and iPod syncing today, it'd be 1000% easier and you'd get the same cred by just creating a podcast for your shows and passing out cards/sending email with subscription info.

Keep in mind that a 1hr show at decent quality will be 60MB at the minimum, and so take time to transfer over USB/FW. Is it part of your plan to have all of the people who want this to stand in line after your shows waiting for the people in front of them to finish transferring the file? Not to be harsh, but standing in line isn't very 21st century.
posted by rhizome at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2007

I have a Sima Hitch that does this. It doesn't have any built-in storage, so you'd need to have your mp3s on a flash drive. It hasn't corrupted my 5g ipod yet.
posted by hades at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

On second reading it's just a demo that you'd be passing out and not the show itself, but still. People would much rather just know they can download something for free instead of standing in line. If they want to talk to you they're going to do that anyway.
posted by rhizome at 9:17 AM on August 24, 2007

The Hitch copies each file to the target ipod twice: once to a location where it's playable immediately, thanks to mucking with the music db, and once to a directory where it can be copied into the user's music library so that they don't lost it next time they sync. Unfortunately, it only works with FAT-formatted ipods. A firmware update could make it work with HFS-formatted ipods too, but I haven't seen any firmware updates in a while. They're supposed to be releasing a developers toolkit for it at some point, though--it's an embedded linux device.
posted by hades at 9:20 AM on August 24, 2007

Wow, I didn't know about the Hitch—looks like a cool little device.
posted by aparrish at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2007

The transfer can be done with a USB mass storage bridge. You plug a flash drive with the files into one port, and plug the mp3 player into the other port, and push the button. Done and done.

Most non-Apple mp3 players will recognize files immediately when they're dropped onto the drive, but iPods apparently need an external iTunes instance to add the files to their library before they're playable. YMMV.
posted by Myself at 8:21 PM on August 24, 2007

Thanks, hades. I think the Hitch is closest to the ideal, the FAT restriction notwithstanding. We'll have to play around with it before actually taking it to the masses... but it's nice to know something like this is out there!
posted by pants at 8:35 PM on August 24, 2007

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