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J.D. Biersdorfer

J.D. Biersdorfer

Columnist and author of iPod: The Missing Manual

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Tony Bove

Tony Bove

Journalist, columnist and co-author of iPod & iTunes for Dummies...

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Brad Miser

Brad Miser

Author of more than 30 books including Absolute Beginner's...

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Brad Miser on Mastering the iPod

Brad Miser on Mastering the iPod

A prolific writer on technical subjects, Brad Miser has authored more than 30 books—his favorite topics being anything starting with “I,” such as iTunes, iPhone and iPod. Miser’s books include Teach Yourself Visually MacBook, My iPhone and Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPod and iTunes. Additionally, he has been co-author, development editor or technical editor on more than 50 other titles. Here, Miser shares a few tips on how new users can master the iPod.

How has the iPod changed our lives and how will it continue to change our lives over the next few years?

It’s given us more control over our environment as we move about. Instead of simply having to endure whatever conditions we find ourselves in, we can control what we hear and see by choosing music, video and other content wherever we are. The iPod makes life more enjoyable because we can make good use of those situations in which we might previously have been limited, such as traveling on planes, trains, buses and cars. Instead of just enduring those situations, the iPod helps us actually enjoy them.

To give our readers some perspective in the first 30 days, what’s the most interesting aspect of the iPod and iTunes?

iTunes and iPods are simply brilliant. These are great tools that work well and consistently. That amazingly powerful technology can be so well designed that it’s easy to learn and fun to use. Once you’ve learned how to do something once, you can usually use very similar steps to accomplish a related task. For example, if you know how to listen to a song, it takes very little time to learn to use podcasts, TV shows and so on. These technologies are so well designed that they manage all the complexity for us, allowing us to do what we want, rather than spending a lot of time and effort “fiddling” with the technology.

Can people get emotional when learning to master the iPod?

New technology can be intimidating and there’s sometimes pressure to learn everything immediately, which is not realistic. Instead, realize you won’t ever know it all. Focus on learning in small, manageable chunks, starting with the tasks that are of most interest to you. Odds are that you won’t ever use some of the functionality these tools offer, and this is the case for most of us. Using iPods and iTunes is fun and learning to do so should be fun too. If it isn’t, change how you’re trying to learn or the expectations you have.

How can people avoid feeling overwhelmed in the first 30 days of learning the iPod?

Realize that there’s seldom a “right” or “wrong” way to do things with an iPod or iTunes. There’s usually more than one way to do most tasks. Try all of them to see which best suits you. If you run into “experts” who tell you how to do something in a better way, listen to what they say, but then make your own choice. If the way you do something works for you, that should be good enough even if an “expert” says there’s a better way.

Do you think that iPod and iTunes technology will ever fully replace “hard-copy” technologies, like CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray Discs?

The primary technical limitations to replacing physical media are getting content in the appropriate formats and storing that content within iTunes on a computer or on an iPod. While you can obtain a lot of iPod/iTunes-ready content in the iTunes Store and other places on the web, much of it is still limited to physical devices, such as DVDs. The technology to convert this content to be compatible with iTunes and iPods is just too much trouble for most people—it’s far easier to just use a DVD than it is to get that DVD, convert it and import it into the iTunes Library. The other technical challenge is the storage space needed, especially for video content. Storing the equivalent of even a modest DVD library takes a lot of disk space, far more than most computers have available, not to mention iPods and other portable devices.

What are your favorite functions of the iPod, besides the obvious portable music capability?

The iPod Touch’s interface and the ability to control a device and manipulate content using your fingers is amazing. It really extends the idea of a mouse to be even more intuitive; why use a mouse when you can just use your fingers? I hope to see this type of interface take over the computer desktop, too.

The iPod’s video capabilities are also great. It’s amazing to be able to carry and enjoy lots of video content in such a small package. When this was first introduced, I was quite skeptical. In this age of increasing screen size, who’d want to see video on such a small screen? But the amazing quality of the iPod’s display makes watching video on it a pleasure and made me into a believer.

Can you give our readers a sample of what's on your iPod?

I have fairly eclectic tastes in music. The artists in my iTunes Library and on my iPods range from “classics” in various genres, such as Frank Sinatra, B.B. King and Johnny Cash, to more modern, but sometimes lesser known artists such as 3 Doors Down and Cross Canadian Ragweed—which might be my favorite band name ever.

What’s the best way to organize music on the iPod?

I have lots of playlists; most of them are for specific artists, but some are more general, such as one for all of my soundtracks. I organize playlists with folders based primarily on genre, such as Instrumental, Rock and so on. I use the Party Shuffle playlist quite a bit because it keeps my music fresh and interesting.

When attempting to master the iPod, what’s the best learning strategy?

Understand your own learning style. Some people like to learn on their own by trial and error. If that’s your style, go for it and don’t worry about trying to get a lot of help from other people. Other people prefer to have help while they learn. If that’s your preferred mode, get some books and identify web resources to help you. Figure how you want to learn and then act accordingly. Don’t worry if people advise you to learn “their” way.

Beyond the first 30 days, how can people continue to increase their knowledge of the iPod, particularly when updates appear so rapidly?

The most important updates are those related to functions people already use. People should be aware of new commands and options that appear as they do their normal iPod related tasks. When people notice something new—especially after being notified that a new version of iTunes or iPod software is available—they should take a few minutes to explore it. They can try the new command or option to see what it does, or they can launch iTunes or iPod help and read the “What’s New?” section to learn about the new functionality. New features are almost always covered on iTunes and iPod web sites, as well.

Periodically, it’s a good idea to peruse the iTunes and iPod web sites, help information, magazines and other sources of information to learn about updates related to features that people don’t currently use. It’s also a good idea to try something new or at least a new way of doing a current task to learn about unused capabilities and new capabilities that are the result of updates.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

Nothing—good or bad—lasts forever, which is a lesson I learned when my kids were young and I wondered if I would ever be able to sleep through the night again. I did… eventually. I’ve learned to enjoy good times while they last and realize that tough times don’t last forever. Looking back, some of the tough times of change helped me be a better person.

The best thing about change is...

...learning something new to expand my personal horizons.

What’s the best change you have ever made?

Speaking from the technology standpoint, it was when I started using personal computers in the late 1980s and began a life-long love affair with new technology that has lead me to many amazing opportunities, including the ability to help people through my books.

Posted: 2/1/08