The Enthusiast Community Is Modding Old iPods to Add Bluetooth, Taptic Engine, and More

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 22 Mar 2022

iPod and AirPods

The iconic iPod was retired on September 9, 2014. It was unceremoniously nixed from the Apple storefront — the iPod Touch was also declared “obsolete” last year. Since then, passionate audiophiles and the electronics modding community have taken it upon themselves to revive old iPods, upgrade them, and keep them running in this day and age of digital streaming and subscription services.

Apple’s iPod revolutionized portable audio players, and its functionality was eventually integrated into the iPhone, where it evolved into Apple Music as we know it today. However, like any other streaming platform, Apple Music demands a subscription to access droves of audio content. For most of us, the iPod is a tech accessory from the days bygone, when you could purchase and store music offline, on hard disks, immune from cellular network issues and subscription fees. Some modders successfully got an iPod to run Spotify, but now the iPod has its charm. A Wired report shares how those days are back for several iPod modders who have incorporated modern technology such as solid-state storage, Apple’s Taptic Engine, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Solid-State Storage: Solid Upgrade

Unlike contemporary Apple products, the iPod was modular. It could be opened up and broken down into its individual components. Scores of people from the enthusiast community have taken their iPods, dusted them off, and swapped the mechanical hard drive for SSDs that sip less battery juice and store many more songs in a smaller form factor. Moreover, SSDs cost around as much as mechanical hard drives now while being more resistant to physical damage in the iPod’s enclosure.

Most aging iPods need new batteries, and some enterprising enthusiasts saw a business opportunity at hand. Wired reports that Austin Lucas, the person behind Elite Obsolete Electronics (EOE), makes a living repairing old iPods and sifting through iPods purchased in bulk from e-waste recyclers. He pieces the good bits from the waste to create functioning “new” iPods that fetch a fair price in the market.

Lucas says, “When the iPod Classic was discontinued, the availability of custom parts was a shell of what it is now … you could really only get batteries and real Apple parts, 2020 was when the purple, green, and blue faceplates came out for the sixth- and seventh-gen iPods, and then that fall the rainbow, blue, and purple backs came out. That added a little freshness and excitement … people would log on, and they’d see a green iPod. Woah! When was that possible?”

Today, Lucas is a trusted supplier in the iPod renaissance communities on Reddit and Discord. Some YouTube content creators such as Wade Nixon of DankPods have also witnessed tremendous success after showcasing how iPods are revitalized.

Green revitalized iPods

Wireless for the Win

The iPod was never designed for Bluetooth connectivity. There’s no room for antennae on the outside. The most effective yet inelegant solution would be to use an off-the-shelf Bluetooth transmitter with the 30-pin port or the iPod’s headphone jack. However, modders seem to have found workarounds for this as well. Amir Rees, an iPod modder, has developed a plug-and-play Bluetooth kit that fits inside the iPod’s enclosure and doesn’t require soldering. What’s more, it performs well.

Rees converted the hold switch on the iPods into a dual-function button for Bluetooth pairing. He has also conceived an antenna cutout in the rear housing to boost range and performance.


Modding Taken to the Next Level

While the SSD mod and Bluetooth connectivity make sense to modernize the iPod, some passionate users have gone the extra mile and thrown Apple’s Taptic Engine into the mix. Modern iPhones use the Taptic engine—a linear actuator—to deliver haptic feedback for button presses and user interface interactions. Modders now prefer the Taptic Engine’s lively buzzes to the tinny audible click when using their iPods’ click wheel.

One Discord user mapped the Taptic Engine to deliver feedback when the internal storage drive gets accessed. Other interesting mods include 3D printed shells and conversions to USB-C. However, most enthusiasts keep it simple. They upgrade the internals and personalize the exterior a bit.

Do you miss the days from not so long ago when we could just purchase music and listen to it anytime we please, even when there was no cellular internet? Would you like to hop on the bandwagon and refresh your old iPod? Tell us in the comments section below.

[Via Wired]