What to do with a Dead iPod

For many of us, who have had iPods for several years, the time is fast approaching when our iPods will die. They have a limited life-span, like all electronic devices, and at best, the batteries will die; at worst, they will go to hard drive heaven.

But even when your iPod is dead, you may find uses for it. If you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on repairs, and would rather buy a new iPod–which does make sense in many cases–is it worth simply tossing the old one? Here are some ideas for using a dead iPod.

First of all, you need to decide how dead your iPod is. If its hard drive has cashed in its chips, then it’s really dead; there’s not much you can do on your own. It’s probably best to go to an iPod repair service and have the hard drive replaced. That’ll cost you much less than buying a new iPod.

Aside from the hard drive, there are many other components that can die: the screen, the backlight, or the actual digital signal processor (the chip that converts bits and bytes to notes). Failures to any of these components can result in a dead iPod – and many are reparable – but, in some cases, even without going for a fix-up, you can use the iPod.

If the backlight has died, you’ll still be able to see the screen if you hold it at the correct angle (though not in the dark; get into shuffling your songs!). If the screen itself is dead, you can get it fixed, and probably should if the iPod is recent enough (though see below for other uses for an iPod). And if the DSP is gone, well, basta; you can use it as a paperweight, or simply keep it on a shelf as a reminder. Or perhaps sell it to your local geek who might want its parts…

However, in my experience, this sort of catastrophic failure is pretty rare. Generally, such events occur early on in your iPod ownership (following the general rule of tech problems: the first month is crucial), or after several years of hard usage. The most common reason your iPod will die – aside from your dropping it and breaking the screen or ruining the hard disk – is because its battery will have reached its limit. iPod batteries generally last two to three years, depending on how often you use the iPod. You can replace them, sure, but it’s not for everyone. Several companies sell iPod battery replacement kits, including instructions – and you can get some from Amazon.com – but for those not technically inclined, this can be a daunting task.) While I’m a card-carrying geek, I haven’t bothered to try replacing the battery in any of my old iPods, because it seems to be too much of a hassle. But, again, there are companies out there that can fix it for you, so you don’t have to get your hands dirty or even worry about damaging the iPod’s other elements.

If you don’t want to replace your iPod’s battery, or don’t feel it’s worthwhile, you can still use your iPod as a music source, as long as it is plugged into an AC adapter. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for $29, or you can buy a combination cigarette-lighter charger and FM transmitter for your car (my favorite is the Monster iCarPlay). Just connect the iPod to the adapter then to your car stereo, or your home stereo, perhaps with an Apple iPod Dock, and turn it on. You’ll have plenty of music, and for a very long time (or at least until another component goes south). You may find that having an iPod just for the car or for your stereo is very useful. Personally, I use an iPod connected to my stereo through the Dock, and control it with Apple’s Remote.

Another way to use an iPod sans battery is to use it as a music source for iTunes on your computer, at home or at work. If you manually copy music to the iPod (which you can still do, even without a battery, as long as the iPod is connected to power), you can then connect the iPod to any computer running iTunes and play its music back, browsing, using playlists, or simply selecting songs, exactly as if it were an iTunes music library on that computer.

If you don’t use a battery-less iPod for music, remember that your iPod is also a hard disk or flash memory device. Because of this, it can come in very handy, even with no battery power. Say you have an 8 GB iPod with a dead battery; you now have a portable 8 GB hard disk. When you connect it to your computer, it will have to power up, but you’ll then be able to use it to transfer files from one computer to another, such as between your home and office computers. (Note that you can’t do this with an iPod touch…)

To use the iPod in this manner, connect it to your computer. On the iPod screen, uncheck Open iTunes when this iPod is attached, then check Enable disk use. Check Manually manage music and videos, then click the iPod in the iTunes Source list and select everything, then press Delete. (You’ll have backed up any music that’s only on that iPod first, of course…) Check the other tabs to make sure there is nothing set to update: podcasts, photos, videos, contacts, etc.

You’ll now have a totally empty iPod, ready for use as a hard disk. Just unmount it (click the arrow next to its name in the iTunes source list), and, the next time you connect it, the iPod will power up and mount on your computer. (You’ll need to connect it to a powered USB or FireWire port–depending on the model–in order for it to work as a hard disk. But as long as it gets power from your computer, it will spin, and you can copy files to and from it.)

Many people (unfortunately) never back up files from their computers, then, when something goes wrong, complain about losing all their hard work. With an old iPod as a backup drive, you have no excuse–just connect it, copy your personal files, then unmount it. Depending on its capacity, you may have a small drive for a handful of files, or as much as 160 GB of disk space to store your photos, music and videos.

If you can think of any other ways to use a dead iPod, add comments to this story. While the above hints are very useful, I’m sure my readers have their own ways of using their iPods. Finally, if you don’t plan to use it, find a geek who will take it off your hands, or, if you are going to dump it, contact Apple to find out how to have it recycled correctly. There are some evil metals in an iPod, and if you toss it in the trash, it will do some bad things to the environment.