iPod Nano Hacking
by Phillip Torrone
January 03, 2006
Editor's note: This How-to was originally posted in the MAKE blog.
The iPod nano isn't as hackable as its older cousins (yet). But you can still do a few things to make it your own, such as change the text strings, the fonts, and the graphics that appear onscreen. This article will show you how to use a PC to customize the text and fonts on your iPod nano, and how to use a Mac to (sorta) customize the graphics. On both platforms, we'll use tools that can also modify other types of iPod, by making alterations to the firmware.
Screen graphics are a special case, because in the nano's firmware, they aren't represented in the same way that they are on other iPods. That's why I say you can only "sorta" change them on the Mac. You can definitely make them different, but the results aren't always predictable, especially the colors and shading.
Note that these are all just early discoveries, so consider this article a work in progress.
Changing Strings of Text
Let's say you don't like the text on your iPod; maybe you'd like to display your name and address on your iPod, so it will be returned if lost. Or maybe you want to rewrite the legal section, just for kicks. The Windows tool iPodWizard from iPodWizard.net lets you change the text strings (menu items, prompts, etc.) on any iPod, including the nano. (For customizations that you can make to the nano using a Mac, see the "Changing Graphics" section below.)
1. Download and install iPodWizard and iHack.
Download and install iPodWizardhere. The source code for iPodWizard is also available.
The iPodWizard.net website also hosts the iPodWizard source code, along with tons of forum posts, articles, how-tos, and more on iPodWizard. So after you read this, that website will be your best source for iPod hacking/modding with iPodWizard.
Also, while you're downloading, grab iHack. We'll use this tool later to make our special text.
2. Download and install the latest iPod nano firmware.
We'll need a fresh copy of the iPod nano firmware to mod. The best way to get this is from Apple. Download and run the iPod Updater installer for your Windows PC here. The installer will create a new directory containing an updater file for all types of iPods. As of this writing, this installer will likely reside in the directory C:\Program Files\iPod\iPod Updater 2005-10-12
3. Perform string surgery.
Start iPodWizard, click "Open Updater," and then navigate to the Updater file (e.g., iPod Updater 2005-10-12.exe) that's inside the iPod Updater directory just created by the installer you downloaded from Apple. I usually make a copy of this file as a backup. That way, I can always restore my iPod to clean firmware if needed.
After you launch the Updater, you'll choose your firmware from the list in a dropdown box at the top. The current iPod nano firmware (as of this writing) is IDR_FIRMWARE- 14.5.0.
Here is a complete list of current iPod firmware versions, with explanations (please post in the comments below if these are not correct):
- IDR_FIRMWARE-1.1.5 - iPod 1st or 2nd generation
- IDR_FIRMWARE-10.3.1 - HP iPod 4th generation
- IDR_FIRMWARE-11.4.2 - iPod color / U2 / Potter?
- IDR_FIRMWARE-14.5.0 - iPod nano
- IDR_FIRMWARE-128.1.1 - iPod Shuffle?
- IDR_FIRMWARE-2.2.3 - iPod 3rd generation
- IDR_FIRMWARE-3.2.6 - iPod mini
- IDR_FIRMWARE-4.3.1 - iPod 4th generation
- IDR_FIRMWARE-5.4.2 - iPod Photo
- IDR_FIRMWARE-6.2.6 - HP iPod mini
- IDR_FIRMWARE-7.2.6 - Not sure what this is for. Some black and white one?
Choose IDR_FIRMWARE-14.5.0 and click Load.
Once the firmware is loaded, click the "Strings" tab. This is all the text on the iPod. It's fun to poke around this list and see all the things the iPod can display.
I'm going to change the word "iPod" to "make" in the top-level menu. Type in iPod and keep clicking "Find Next" until you find the one without a period (.) at the end. I know from experimenting that this is the string I want, the one that appears top-level, and that it's really far down the list.
It's important that the new text "fits" with the old. For example, I chose "make" since it has the same number of characters that "iPod" does.
Now, open iHack. This utility will convert your text string into hexadecimal and feed it to iPodWizard. In iHack, type in what you want the iPod to say, your replacement string.
Once it's typed in, click "Send To Active Window" and then go back to iPodWizard and click the "i" in the "iPod" string that you're replacing, to indicate where to start overwriting. In a second or so, it will replace the "iPod" with "make." I also replaced a few other instances of "iPod" just to make sure I got most of them.
Be careful, however, because there are some strings that shouldn't be changed, and you could mess up the iPod as a result. In the worst case, you can kill any mistakes by re-formatting the iPod in Windows or Mac OS, and then restore from the clean copy of the firmware that you saved.
4. Write out and install the modified firmware.
Once you're done changing all the strings you want, click "Write." This will save the changes to the firmware file.
Once saved, make sure that you have a current backup of everything stored on your iPod. Then open up the iPod Updater, plug in your iPod, and restore. This will erase all of your iPod's data (which is why you need the fresh backup).
Once it's restored and the iPod reboots, you should see your text changes on the iPod nano.
The MAKE 'pod.
Some folks can't read the iPod fonts particularly well, and others just want to change the look. Like the text strings on the iPod nano, you can also use iPodWizard to change the fonts. It's a little trickier, and I don't think the results are usually that great, but here's how.
1. Install iPodWizard and the latest firmware.
Follow steps 1 and 2 above, to download, install, and run iPodWizard, and load in the latest nano firmware, version 14.5.0.
2. Perform font surgery.In iPodWizard, click the Fonts tab. This tab accesses all the fonts supported on the iPod, via the "Index" pull-down menu. Most of these fonts are for other languages, but the one I'm going to change is the iPod's main system font, "Podium Sans," which is index number 29 in the list.
Through this interface, you can tweak parts of the fonts pixel-by-pixel. Or, you can make your own fonts by clicking "Make font," which will grab one from your system. This is pretty cool since there are tons of fonts out there, but most of them don't really look that great on the tiny screen--so experiment! Small Fonts is a good place to start.
3. Write out and install the modified firmware.
Once you've modded the font (Podium Sans, in our case), click "Write." Then restore the iPod with the new firmware, as explained in step 4 of the section above.
Thin font iPod nano.
Modded- vs. unmodded-font screens.
This just about ends what you can do on a PC to customize the nano. You can use iPodWizard to mod graphics on other types of iPods, but not the nano at this time. I suspect that this will change.
To mod graphics on a nano (for now), you need to use a Mac. Here's how I did it:
The nano stores graphics differently from the way it's done on other iPods, and as a result the graphics information isn't accessible through iPodWizard on the PC. But on a Mac, I was able to copy the current firmware off of the iPod, and then view and change some of the graphics. The result looks really odd for some reason, but that's fun too, I suppose.
There might be other ways to mod the graphics, and perhaps some workarounds that enable iPodWizard's "Pictures" tab, but this is the way I got it going on a Mac:
1. Install alterPod and iPodIcons
On a Mac, you need two applications to mod the graphics. The first is alterPod, which you might be able to download from the podite.com site here. This site has been down, however, so if you can't find it there, a search on "alterPod" should find other sources. The second application is iPodIcons, which is available from SourceForge.
2. Extract the firmware from the iPod.
First, plug in the iPod and run alterPod. In the first panel, click Choose in the Backup/Destination field, and select a place on your system to store a backup of your iPod's firmware.
In about one minute, alterPod will tell you that you have a new file called "ipod_firmware_backup." Click Okay, then quit out of alterPod.
Here's a Get Info on the backup file.
3. Mess with the graphics.
Now, start up iPodIcons. From the File menu, choose "Import Firmware."
Choose "Select a file," and then specify the firmware file we just saved with alterPod.
Once the firmware is loaded, you'll see all the graphics. For some reason, with the nano, they all look weird, and I'm not sure why. But from here, you can edit them and save them back to your iPod.
You can also mod your iPod nano's text, by clicking the "Text" button at the upper left.
To mod a graphic, select the icon and choose Export Icon from the Edit menu.
If you want to save the icon out in a particular format, like BMP, go to iPodIcons Preferences and change the Export File Format setting.
Once the graphic is exported, you can edit it using your favorite image editing software; just be sure to keep it the same dimensions, and expect the colors to look weird. I made a red MAKE logo, and it came out green--but I think this is how it will be until the firmware readers update for the nano.
After you're done modifying the graphic, go back into iPodIcons, select the icon you're replacing, and choose Import Icon from the File menu.
4. Save out and load in the new firmware.
From the File menu, choose Export Firmware. Choose "Select a file," check the "Create new firmware file" box, give your new file a name, and click "OK" to save it to your local file system.
Quit iPodIcons, and launch alterPod again. In the "Firmware" panel, navigate to the firmware file you just saved out, and then click "Restore."
Once the restore has completed, eject the iPod. It will reset automatically. And here's the modded MAKE pod!
You can also use the "Resources" and "Editor" panels in alterPod to mod graphics, text, and fonts, rather than switching over to iPodIcons. But for me, doing it in iPodIcons is quicker and easier.
As the hacks get better, we'll update the articles. For now, these are just a couple of the things you can do with a nano. Happy modding!
You must be logged in to post a talkback.[ Display main threads only] [ Oldest First]
Showing messages 1 through 1 of 1.
- ipod nano 2nd genneration
You must be logged in to reply.
can you put linux on ipod nano 2nd genneration?
or can you hack ipod nano 2nd genneration?
Posted by kevinklinkmuller on March 13, 2007 at 03:07:05 Pacific Time
Showing messages 1 through 1 of 1.