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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Comments (54)
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  • 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

  • PrezBuch says:

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

  • Aeryn says:

    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.

  • iplod says:

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

  • Paul says:

    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.

  • Ryan Pratt says:

    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.


  • televison says:

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

  • Mike says:

    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.

  • devolute says:

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

  • @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.

  • kick52 says:

    should­nt ipodlin­ux be in there?

  • David says:

    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.

  • 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.

  • afaf says:

    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.

  • 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.

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

  • Kevin says:

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

  • ChordsofLife says:

    Fan­boy­ism pro­pa­gan­da at it’s best.

    iAu­dio all the way!

  • Louis says:

    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.

  • Joe says:

    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.

  • DAVID says:



    Incred­i­ble col­or wheel, col­or scheme com­put­er for design­ers


    Way cool­er than the Tip Cal­cu­la­tor by the same com­pa­ny.

  • god_mode says:

    Tech­nol­o­gy is sure run­ning a fast pace

  • Torsten says:

    “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.

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

  • mobius says:

    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.

  • NW says:

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


    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.

  • Karthik says:

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

  • Carol A says:

    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?

  • zahadum says:


    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.

  • Erik Neelsen says:

    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?

  • […] Open Cul­ture, som er et af de bed­ste sites om pod­casts, har en liste over de ti mest specielle måder at bruge en iPod på. […]

  • […] 10 Unex­pect­ed Uses of the iPod — Unex­pect­ed Uses of the iPod. […]

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

  • […] (Tra­duci­do vía Ocul­ture) […]

  • Jason says:

    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?

  • […] turn your iPod into a com­bo flash­light and laser point­er. As they say, be pre­pared. Source: 10 Unex­pect­ed Uses of the iPod | Open Cul­ture __________________ Warn­ing: Marijuana.com/forum might be addict­ing, use at own risk Don’t be a […]

  • Ritz says:

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

  • akon says:

    thanks for your info

  • […] An exam­ple of new tech­nol­o­gy lib­er­at­ing oth­ers to cre­ate is the ways peo­ple have found to use the hum­ble iPod. […]

  • 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.

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

  • bob says:

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

  • rwc says:

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

  • Gjfhh says:

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

  • Whats your Top Ten Every­thing…

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

  • john says:

    thanks for all this — it real­ly helps

  • priya singh says:

    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

  • Miguel says:

    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.…..

  • Albert says:

    Absolute non sense. Nowa­days I’m even wor­ried apple’s dis­con­tin­ue the iPod, because I bought a ton for an indus­tri­al set­ting where these lit­tle gad­gets stand out as very effi­cient Bar Code scan­ners and blue col­lar Track­ing devices with the iBea­con fea­ture. 1,500 USD bar code scan­ners can­not match the 1080p Bar Code iPods recog­ni­tion 300 USD pow­er

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