Image: Ellie Huxtable photo.
When software engineer Ellie Huxtable decided she was tired of listening to music on streaming services, she remembered the glory days of the iPod. Armed with iFixit’s diagrams, some good tools, and an idea of what she wanted, Huxtable has updated the old school iPod for 2022, with a bigger battery, a custom OS that can run Doom, and 4 SD card slots.
State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.
The iPod was a revolutionary device that gave people unprecedented control over their listening habits. Released more than 20 years ago, the original iPod with its click wheel and basic interface, is now a piece of tech we feel nostalgia for. Apple still sells iPods, but they’re just iPhones with features stripped out and most of us listen to music through streaming services. Huxtable got the idea to make the iPod when she realized she hadn’t listened to some of her favorite artists in a really long time. “Not because I'd stopped liking them, but because they weren't being suggested by whatever algorithm dictates my listening,” Huxtable said. “The genre variety of what I listened to had plummeted as well, and I wasn't enjoying the music quite so much. It was starting to become more and more like background noise with a beat. I ‘rediscovered' a few of them on Spotify, but it still felt like I was being guided towards letting someone else choose for me.”For the project, Huxtable pulled apart a 5th generation iPod. Her biggest upgrades were the battery and the storage. Old iPods had hefty HDDs and Huxtable wanted something sleeker and bigger. She used a thin iFlash Quad which let her insert four SD cards. “SD cards use less power + put out less heat than the comparable SSDs,” she said in her blog explaining the project.
The battery and front casing are more traditional, though the front of the case is clear and shows off the circuit board underneath. Huxtable told Motherboard she was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to work on the older iPod. “Opening the device up wasn't too bad, and everything else mostly just slotted together,” she said. “Some of the cables were a little fiddly to take out, purely because of their size plus me being scared of breaking them.”
Huxtable’s earliest memory of an iPod is her father’s Nano in 2006. He later upgraded to a classic. “He actually still has it and uses it pretty much every day,” she said. “Every car journey we had as children featured that iPod.”As far as nostalgia goes, the click wheel stands out in her mind. “The clicky scroll wheel noise 100% hit it for me, and from the responses I've had it did the same for a lot of other people too,” she said. “It's still up there as one of my favorite input methods, and is much better to scroll on than a touch screen.”She had to buy the iPod on eBay and the other parts cost an additional $340. “Most of that was the SD cards,” she said. “Otherwise the most expensive part was the iFlash storage adapter. Everything else was fairly cheap.” The whole project took two hours, though she thinks she could do it faster a second time. Huxtable used software called Rockbox to control the iPod, which has freed her from the tyranny of Apple music. It can even play Doom.
The project got a lot of attention online when Huxtable posted a thread detailing her work on Twitter. “I think it's the nostalgia for a lot of people,” she said. “I had a lot of replies from people telling me that they had one in a drawer somewhere, and wanted to have a go at modding their own. For others I think it's harkening back to a time when technology was a bit simpler, and not so always-connected and always-on.”The new device, with its clear front and clicky wheel, has changed her listening habits just like she wanted. “I'm much choosier with what I listen to now, and will take more time to pick out something that suits the mood,” she said. “The variety has really increased too; for instance, I'll often have electronic music while working, but something more lyrical while I'm out for a walk. I think it's probably better for the artists as well, because my money is going straight to the source.”