The first MP3 player to become a platform for other software and hardware developers, Apple's iPod can serve up all sorts of helpful text info on its screen, from study guides to the latest headlines.
Some people just like carrying PDAs. Maybe it's that comforting extra weight in the pocket, or perhaps they just love the added convenience with which their bosses and parents are able to reach them at all hours of the day, and really appreciate paying an arm and a leg to send short, stilted e-mails to each other from a tiny screen and keyboard.
Sarcasm aside, the true value of PDAs lies in the fact that you can use them to access little informational nuggets on the go. Don't feel like throwing down a few hundred dollars for another thing to carry around? You can now get your iPod to store and display the same types of informational nuggets, thanks to a handful of third-party developers who have figured out how to use Apple's music device as a platform for text-based reference materials.
Before You Get Started
Since they use text rather than images or video, these programs can be deployed on any iPod with a screen. But for proper installation, your computer has to recognise your iPod as an external hard drive. To make this so, first connect your iPod to your computer. Once iTunes starts up, right-click your iPod in iTunes' left pane and select iPod Options. In the iPod tab, check Enable Disk Use.
One more thing ... If you install a ton of reference guides on to your iPod, as we did for this story, it will slow down the load time of your iPod's Notes section considerably. Watch out for the high-volume guides -- load too many of them, and you could wait upwards of three minutes to use any of them.
You can get PodPlus to download any RSS feed to your iPod; these are only suggestions.
The News ... Any News
If you don't know what RSS feeds are, start here to get up to speed. RSS feeds -- text blurbs from a news site that you can subscribe to and receive updated headlines in real time -- are perfect for reading on an iPod, because they're short (you can also choose to have the full articles downloaded, although reading them on your iPod's screen might take awhile). If you're into current events, you can have each day's worth of Google news headlines and summaries dumped on to your iPod automatically.
Or, if you're into football, there's probably a site you can visit to get those scores fed onto your iPod as RSS, too. The same goes for just about any other form of news (weather, stocks, and so forth). All you need to do is paste the RSS URL into a program called iPodSoft PodPlus (US$15) to subscribe to the news feeds of your choice. Plug your iPod into your computer each night, and you'll wake up with fresh headlines on your iPod. (PodPlus does a bunch of other cool stuff, too.)
The Rules to Card Games
When it comes to card games, everyone involved needs to have agreed on the rules before you get started; otherwise, the yelling starts happening too late for the game to be salvaged. iPrepPress offers downloadable, iPod-readable rule sets for Texas Hold 'Em, Blackjack, Bridge, and Pinochle, to stop potentially ugly rule arguments before they begin. Download them all to your iPod for free, where they can be read as a series of little pages -- just download the Zip file and extract it to a new, dedicated folder in your iPod's Notes directory and you're done.
(iPrepPress offers a number of other programs for the iPod; their upcoming SparkNotes application looks the most promising -- basically, it's Cliff's Notes, on steroids, for the iPod.)
Unless you listen only to instrumental music, you'd probably like to carry around some lyrics on your iPod. A program called StayLazy Canto Pod takes care of this for you -- one of the cleverer exploitations of Apple's Notes feature. Connect your iPod and fire up Canto Pod. The program will grab the song titles from your iPod and display them in a window on your PC.
Check the boxes for the songs you want lyrics for, click the little iPod icon at the lower right corner of the Canto Pod window, and the song lyrics will download from LeosLyrics.com into your iPod's Contacts section. Unfortunately, the lyrics won't scroll along with the music and aren't connected to the song in any way, so you'll have to find the song in Contacts to read the corresponding lyrics. The advantage of this approach is that you can consult the lyrics at any time for inspiration, whether or not the song is playing.
Or, Create Your Own iPod Text App
If you like the sound of text guides for the iPod, why not try creating your own? iPodSoft created a free program called iStory Creator to let you do just that. Run the program and fill in the text for a bunch of little iPod screens, and then link them together -- the program shows you how. This lets you create a guide to your town, write a "choose your own adventure" story, format your favourite recipes for the iPod, etc -- the only limit, as you have no doubt heard before, is your own imagination.