10 Unexpected Uses of the iPod

New technologies often have unintended uses. Take the Ipod as a case in point. It was developed with the intention of playing music (and later videos), but its applications now go well beyond that. Here are 10 rather unforeseen, even surprising, uses:

1. Train Doctors to Save Lives: A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology indicates that iPods can double interns’ ability to identify heart sounds that are indicative of serious heart problems (i.e., aortic or mitral stenosis). By using the iPod to repeatedly listen to recordings of normal and abnormal heart beat patterns, interns can effectively hear when something is going awry.

Or how about this for another medical application: Will Gilbert, who heads up the bioinformatics group in the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, stores the entire human genome on his iPod. As you can read in Wired, he has found that the iPod is a great way to store the gene sequence, all 3 billion chemical letters of it, and, compared to using a network, he can access data more quickly with the little Apple gadget. [Thanks to one of our readers for pointing this one out.]

2. Bring Criminals to Justice: On an experimental basis, a United States federal district court has started using iPods to hold copies of wiretap transmissions in a large drug-conspiracy case. Why? Because it’s easier than storing the recordings on cassette tapes or CDRoms; the defendants and attorneys can access and work through the recordings with ease; and it can all be done in a secure environment.

3. Get Yourself Into Serious Shape: Many joggers love how their iPods can provide entertainment that will spice up a monotonous routine. But probably few know that you can use the iPod to plan training routes for their runs. TrailRunner lets runners do precisely that. This free program helps you plan your route and then loads your iPod with maps, distances, and time goals.

4. Tour Around Great Cities: iSubwayMaps lets you download subway maps from 24 major cities across the globe. They range from New York City, Paris and Berlin to Moscow, Tokyo and Hong Kong. (Get the full list here.) To take advantage of these maps, your iPod will need to support photos, but that shouldn’t be a problem for most recent iPods.

We’ve also talked recently about a venture called Soundwalk that provides engaging, somewhat offbeat audio tours of New York and Paris (plus Varanasi in India). In New York, they offer individual tours of Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Times Square and the Meat Packing District, among other places. In Paris, they take you through the Marais, St. Germain, Pigalle, Belleville, and the Palais Royal. Each audio tour is narrated by a celebrity of sorts and can be downloaded for about $12.

5. Calculate the Right Tip: If you’re a little math challenged, you can use your iPod when you’re out to dinner to calculate the correct tip. TipKalc helps you figure out both the tip and the grand total on your bill, and it even lets you split your check up to five different ways.

6. Record Flight data: According to a report in Flight Global, a company called LoPresti Speed Merchants has announced plans to use iPods as flight data recorders in light aircraft. The little white box will serve as the “black box” within the airplanes and will have the ability to record over 500 hours of flight time data. Does this mean that iPods can survive plane crashes? Who would have thunk it.

7. Throw a Meaner Curveball: Jason Jennings, a pitcher for the Houston Astros, started using a video iPod last year to review his pitching frame by frame and to improve his overall technique. He also reviews video of all opposing batters before each game. Since incorporating the iPod into his training, he has since seen his ERA go down, and other teams — notably the Marlins and Mariners — have looked into using the iPod in similar ways.

8. Learn Foreign Languages: iPods are becoming more commonplace in university classrooms, with students using them to record lectures, take notes, and even create electronic flash cards. (See in depth article here.) The gadgets are also being used to help students formally study music and learn foreign languages. Now, if you’re a regular Open Culture reader, you’ll know that you don’t need to be a university student to learn foreign languages with the help of an iPod. With the help of our podcasts collection, you can pick up most any language on your own.

9. Learn to Love and Buy Wine: Here’s a novel way to get introduced to wine. For $35, you can download an audio file called Mark Phillips Wine Guide onto your iPod. This primer will, among other things, teach you how to describe, taste, and buy wine, and you’ll come away with a certain je ne sais quoi.

10. Test Cheating: Yes, unfortunately technology can be used for bad as well as good. It was widely reported just this past week that students are apparently using the iPod to cheat on exams. During tests, they’ll apparently sneak earbuds into their ears and tap into valuable formulas, class notes, voices recordings, etc. Others will even write out crib notes and enmesh them within song lyrics.

Bonus: The iPod as Flashlight: During the major blackout in 2003, many New Yorkers improvised after nightfall and used the light generated by their iPods to get around their apartments. It was a makeshift way of doing things. But now there is a more formal way of using your iPod to light your way. For about $13, you can purchase Griffin’s iBeam, an attachment that will quickly turn your iPod into a combo flashlight and laser pointer. As they say, be prepared.


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  1. Ivan from Ads of the World says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 12:11 am

    iPods have been used for advertising as well. Together with the iTrip FM transmitter they can be mini radio stations or vehicles to deliver advertising messages. Example: http://raszl.net/ambient_media/riffa_views_parking_lot

  2. PrezBuch says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 5:42 am

    ..as a vibrator? I recently saw some addon for that too. :-)

  3. Aeryn says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 5:46 am

    Personally, aside from as a music player, I like to use my iPod as a DAT for smaller shows my band plays where I don’t want to have to haul around my computer rig.

  4. Troy says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 6:02 am

    So the unexpected uses are that the iPod is used to listen / view Audio & Video?

    Wow…. so unexpected.

  5. iplod says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 6:26 am

    of course none of what’s described is particularly unique to the ipod.

  6. phej says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 6:30 am

    Listening to podcasts does not require an iPod, any mp3 player will do. I also don’t think listening to audio or watching video qualifies as an unexpected use, regardless of the content.

  7. Paul says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 7:05 am

    The “they” in “As they say, be prepared” are the Boy Scouts of America. Scout Motto: Be Prepared. Just giving credit to where credit is due.

  8. Ryan Pratt says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 7:07 am

    Great list! You should put it on ListAfterList.com. There are tons of other lists just like this there.

    Check it out… it is quick and easy.

    http://www.ListAfterList.com

  9. televison says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 7:18 am

    Cheating with Ipod is getting more and more popular where I study

  10. Mike says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 7:41 am

    We recently used the RSS feature of iPODS to deliver digital dailies for the film industry. A producer in LA can subscribe to a private secure RSS feed and see the dailies that were shot in a remote location. As the feeds are archived they can be useful for doing continuity pickups as well.

  11. devolute says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 8:31 am

    #12 – Bore everyone with masses of mac-fanboyism everytime Apple fart out a new iPod version.

  12. live television says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 8:57 am

    @devolute
    right on the money!

    IPods …yawn, anyone who has one bought it because of the social peer pressure involved in getting it. I recommend getting an IPod only if you have $150 dollars to burn and you want to make a really stupid choice. The IPod is one of the most expensive players on the market, and it offers 1/4th the features of some of its cheaper competitive, the only reason I can see to buy it is to conform or you can be the ‘non-conforming conformist’ rebel.

  13. kick52 says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 9:37 am

    shouldnt ipodlinux be in there?

  14. David says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 10:00 am

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of the Ipod and how useless it is….Apple was able to capitalize on the mp3 player market. They just released results boasting $770m in net income due partly to the strong demand. Quite a marketing engine they are.

  15. The Pandora Effect says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 10:02 am

    iPod has got a while range of accessories to fit together with, giving even MORE uses! talking about an iPod vibrator. incase you still dont know; seriously, it exists! haha.

    best regards.

  16. afaf says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 10:02 am

    Why not change the article to “10 Unexpected Uses of MP3-players”?

    It’s not like the iPod is the only player out there capable of doing these things. It doesn’t even to it best.

  17. Rhett Maxwell says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 11:12 am

    I’ve been using my ipod to study german. Not only are there books on tape available, but there are many free podcasts available as well. The ipod lets you rewind and replay difficult phrases over and over.

  18. -=-Leneras-=- says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 11:29 am

    One clear point to make here, everything you can and are about to be able to do on an ipod, you can do on many another thing, and have been able to do for a long time ;-)

    Dont get me wrong ipods look snazzy and if i had the money to waste i would, but im weak to the social norm like that as are the consumers who brought one of there many versions of what essentially is a POS in a snazzy case lolol

    So many problems and issues have arisen with the iPod over time, just another mac ploy to try and stamp an “i” on everything, doesnt bother me though, there over-expensive products simply encourage consumers to look elsewhere to cheaper and more efficient alternatives

    Oh and iTunes….. ill leave that there

    So anyways thats my opinion, iPods teh ghey and support other companies because monopolistic (or would they be an ologopoly since apple branch into different markets…. no no monopoly it is) anyways as i was saying support other companies because wasting your money on crap like this just encourages the facist bastards haha

    L8rs

  19. James (CMiYC) says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 11:48 am

    I use my iPod for paperless Geocaching. Using MacCaching, I export the cache descriptions to my iPod.

  20. Kevin says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 12:04 pm

    Also, a lot of people listen to audiobooks and stories — see http://welltoldtales.com for one good example

  21. alex says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 12:42 pm
  22. ChordsofLife says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 12:51 pm

    Fanboyism propaganda at it’s best.

    iAudio all the way!

  23. Louis says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 2:22 pm

    One museum I went to (www.zkm.de) offers an audio-guide of their exhibition by USB: plug in your media player, and they will upload the MP3 audio guide into it. Clever, IMO.

  24. Joe says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 3:16 pm

    It’s the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” not just what THEY say. I realize that’s kinda haughty to say, but I’m an Eagle Scout and a hardcore geek. Just thought I’d clear up that paraphrase.

  25. dizzy says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 3:30 pm
  26. +-\/5cr48-+ says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 4:26 pm

    no no thats economics not fanboyism propagandam, nub :P

  27. DAVID says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 6:18 pm

    http://www.koloroo.com/

    KOLORWHEEL!!!!!!

    Incredible color wheel, color scheme computer for designers

    WOW

    Way cooler than the Tip Calculator by the same company.

  28. god_mode says . . . | April 30, 2007 / 10:53 pm

    Technology is sure running a fast pace

  29. Torsten says . . . | May 1, 2007 / 12:14 am

    “Tour Around Great Cities:”

    There are quite a few more city audio guides / podcasts, and they don’t need to cost any more 12 Bucks. Podguides.net (user generated city guides), iToors and also iaudioguide.com (with 40 cities) offer free content for travelers.

  30. Michael Price says . . . | May 1, 2007 / 7:47 pm

    Shopping for real estate is another unexpected use of the iPod that is catching on in a big way.

  31. mobius says . . . | May 2, 2007 / 5:09 am

    re: #4 —

    when i was in germany, i visited the buchenwald concentration camp. they offered rentals of a pocket tour guide for 4 euro that consisted of an ipod nano loaded with mp3s corresponding to each of the sites at the camp.

    most unexpected use of an ipod ever.

  32. NW says . . . | May 2, 2007 / 8:47 am

    If it’s the audio tours that you are interested in then I have set up a site called

    http://www.tourdio.com

    It is an audio tour directory so that you can find audio tours with as little fuss as possible.
    Because the industry is still in it’s infancy, the companies producing audio tours don’t always do too well in the search engine listings.
    We have put together lists of hundreds of tours from all over the globe, and they are really easy to track down. We don’t put them on our lists so that we get commission, we put them on if they are of a good standard.
    I hope that if you use the site, you find it useful.

  33. Karthik says . . . | May 3, 2007 / 9:26 am

    I use the iPod to record stories for my kid who listens to it in the night before sleeping.

  34. Carol A says . . . | May 6, 2007 / 6:32 pm

    The one thing I would like to see is an MP3 player with Ebook capabilities. You could read a book & listen to music, learn a language with sound for correct pronounciation, hear a lecture and see pictures or diagrams. It seems such an obvious device , but why has no-one built one? Maybe it’s just being able to get a readable screen that doesn’t use too much power?

  35. zahadum says . . . | May 23, 2007 / 5:51 pm

    @kartkik:

    courseware running on ipod – right on!

    the biggest oversight by apple (after killing full pda functionality of the Newton) was to cripple the ipod with no real interactivity …

    partly his was the result (one of many) of steve jobs crippling the R&D budget at apple – so hypercard V3 / quicktime-Interactive was cancelled.

    this technology – along with what could have been salvaged from the kaleida joint venture with IBM – would have been sufficient to give apple genuinie competitive advantage for multimedia.

    however this value-add has been ceeded to adobe/macromedia.

    current ipods are crippled the lack of interactive technologies:

    * ipods dont run java because apple has offcially disparaged any future role for java in their products (yet they are still a member of the BlueRay group);

    * ipods dont run quicktime even though the mpeg4 file format is based on the apple MOV format! – so we cant have sprites, subtitles alternate language tracks, etc – or anything else that would make feedback language laearning portable (eg rosetta stone).

    * ipods cant run ajax so no ‘thin web client’ solution is possible.

    Thus it seems that we will have to wait for a further iteration of the iphone – ie a ‘real’ platform with os/x & quicktime etc – before any meaningful educational applications can be run on an ipod.

    Given the lacklustre responce by the movie studios (which is also going to hurt appletv), perhaps apple will see that there are other types of programming that can be driven by the itunes store — eg language learning & cultural tours (and yes, real estate) … not to mention ebooks which is a whole different topic.

    These interactive forms of content are BILLION DOLLAR market segments waiting to be developed …. but the opportunity for apple to deliver a unique user eperience is rapidly closing.

    Apple missed the boat on the whole youtube thing (which shows that not paying attention to the market can derail any brilliantly crafted product planning – ie appletv) … i fear that sony (with their new PSP-based phone, which will be launched soon with BT) or microsoft (putting the wifi part of zune to good effect for geo-based content) could easily eclipse apple if it continues to innovate at such a slow pace!

    i hope apple will not be too slow to either push out an enhanced version of the ipod or a cheaper version of the iphone (they have already missed the boat on gps & av features of the iphone!) that focuses on the CONTENT aspect not the COMMUNICATION aspect of a media platform.

    however, i wont hold my breath — apple is not good at doing more than one thing at a time (witness the delay of leoaprd on account of the iphone) because they CONGENITALLY under-resource their engineering efforts …. this is part of the legacy of steve jobs mismanagement.

  36. Erik Neelsen says . . . | August 5, 2007 / 7:15 pm

    Years ago during my time in the USMC, I worked on helicopters and had to carry not only the tools, but also a cumbersome manual or two at times in somewhat confined spaces. I thought it may be a good idea now in the time of Ipod to transfer manuals to an Ipod in either text with voice read back or in video. Any thoughts?

  37. Podblog | Karin Høgh blogger om podcasting says . . . | November 9, 2007 / 2:08 pm

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  42. Jason says . . . | May 29, 2008 / 8:03 am

    I saw a couple of mentions of using an ipod for shopping for real estate.

    Can anyone clarify that for me…I mean, like how?

  43. Music in School - Marijuana.com says . . . | January 6, 2009 / 1:48 pm

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  44. Ritz says . . . | February 10, 2009 / 11:42 am

    I like to use my ipod to catch up on my reading for english class during the day after I’ve bought the audiobook!

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  46. akon says . . . | June 1, 2009 / 1:35 am

    thanks for your info

  47. FTTP NBN – National Broadband network « Freedom of Communication says . . . | May 27, 2010 / 12:35 pm

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  48. News Innovations says . . . | June 10, 2010 / 11:34 pm

    Great tips to use iPod. Now even some products are coming to make it more useful. Check out http://newsandinnovations.com/index.php/2010/06/10/use-apple-iphone-ipod-a-projector-for-home-theater-experience to use your iPod as a projector.

  49. TV Through Internet says . . . | June 11, 2010 / 2:03 pm

    Interesting post. Lots of them out there!!! keep up the good work. Also watch Tv Through Internet.

  50. bob says . . . | July 8, 2010 / 12:11 am

    of course none of what’s described is particularly unique to the ipod.

  51. rwc says . . . | March 5, 2011 / 2:15 pm

    The m e d i u m is the m e s s a g e …

  52. Gjfhh says . . . | April 28, 2011 / 1:10 pm

    The reason we use these things is because it’s new in three years we won’t care about it anymore.

  53. Gjfhh says . . . | April 28, 2011 / 1:23 pm

    I like the way you think because you are so right.

  54. what is boil says . . . | July 20, 2011 / 8:45 am

    This is just amazing, such a small ipod and so many uses…

  55. Get your top ten today says . . . | October 12, 2011 / 12:00 am

    Whats your Top Ten Everything…

    […]10 Unexpected Uses of the iPod | Open Culture[…]…

  56. john says . . . | October 23, 2011 / 8:35 am

    thanks for all this – it really helps

  57. priya singh says . . . | April 5, 2012 / 12:17 am

    how to use i pod .plz suggest me nd what is the use of ipod.is it only for msg nd music or something else.plz help me

  58. Miguel says . . . | August 23, 2012 / 4:52 am

    How about connecting a usb keyboard controller using the usb camera connction kit or any other midi interface and playing some very nice sounds coming from the ipod/ ipad?
    I use the sampletank app and it sounds very nice.
    Turn the ipod/ ipad into a midi sound module with some interesting price……. no other music player can do that…….
    And there are many other virtual synths for ipod/ipad……

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