How-to: get music, video, and photos off your iPod or iPhone (Windows)

Know Your Models: The difference between iPhone / iPod touch and other iPod models

Until iPhone and iPod touch came along, all of Apple's media players connected with computers much in the same way as external hard drives: once plugged in, it had no control of its own. That makes media extraction actually pretty easy, as long as you know where to look. Unfortunately, the iPhone and iPod touch are a different story. With those two, the device itself became an active participant, another computer entity that no longer offers easy access to the data -- which ultimately means here that the same methods for copying media that worked before just won't do for the touchscreen-inclined variants. To be perfectly clear, it also means that manually taking media off of iPhones isn't possible, at least ones not jailbroken.

Disabling autosync and enabling disk usage

We've gotta do a bit of house cleaning first. If you've got iTunes installed -- and there's a very, very good chance you do -- we need to make sure autosync is turned off, lest we find ourselves losing those file-laden devices to a refresh. Hold down the Shift and Control buttons when you plug in the iPod / iPhone to prevent it from syncing, then from the iTunes menu, click on the device under the left panel.

Make sure you've got "manually manage music and videos" checked as well as "enable disk use," which will come in handy later as it lets the device appear in Windows Explorer as an external drive. Your iPhone will also have a checkbox for automatically syncing -- yep, that needs to remain unchecked.

Copying purchased content using iTunes

This one's easy. All the iPod / iPhone content that you've purchased through iTunes store -- music, video, apps -- can be transferred back to any computer that's authorized with your account. Check Store > Authorize Computer to be sure, and if you've already hit your limit of five (other) authorized devices, you can select "View my Account" and then bring up the iTunes store window to reset them all. Once that's out of the way, simply go to File > Transfer Purchases and let the software do its thing.

Never click anything that'll erase! We obviously can't stress this enough. All the content on the device will be wiped clean and whatever's on the computer itself will take its place. That's not at all what you want -- so be careful!


Right click on a track to see the file type. Note that this method also copies over DRM-free iTunes Plus songs.

Copying from iPod / iPhone using software

The Windows equivalent of our go-to Mac solution, Pod to PC, carries a $20 price tag. If you're not wanting to fork over the cash, however, we're going to recommend giving SharePod a shot. We hit some initial hiccups in the setup process, but it sure does the trick.

  • Go to SharePod's website and select "Get SharePod" from the bottom of the page

  • Locate the file and unzip its contents

  • Move to applications folder, or wherever you'd like it to stay and be content

Once you start the program (SharePod.exe), you'll be prompted to close iTunes if it's open.

If you get another warning message that tells you there's an Artwork issue, i.e. "mhni expected, but mhaf found," with disk use enabled and hidden files shown (see below for further instructions), go into the iPod's contents via Windows Explorer, locate the iPod_control > Artwork folder and delete the file "ArtworkDB" (special thanks to Michael from this SharePod blog post for figuring out that workaround).

With that out of the way, you will come to a pretty simple window as seen below.

Select the files you want to transfer and then click "Copy to PC."

Where and how organized you want the files is entirely up to you, but we do appreciate the options here. Make your selection and click Ok.

Et voila! Smiles all around. Of course, if you don't mind paying a few pennies for convenience, you might be interested to try Pod to PC or CopyTrans -- both have free trials, too, if you're just wanting to give them a fighting chance. Wikipedia has a nice list comparing the feature sets of varoius iPod and iPhone managers, as well.

Copying from iPods manually

The manual copy is a great last resort, and for aforementioned reasons it only works on iPods, but there's some caveats to this method which you'll quickly discover. Make sure you've enabled disk usage (see above).

We're also gonna need to see hidden files. Fortunately, Microsoft makes it incredibly easy to do so. Simply locate Folder Options from the Tools menu in Windows Explorer (or search for Folder Options, it should pop up). Under the view tab, select the radio button for "Show hidden files and folders."

Now with that all set up, click on the iPod from Windows Explorer, then the now-revealed iPod_Control folder. From inside, Games_RO is gonna be where your downloaded games' content is -- so for example, you can copy the soundtrack from Phase and add to your main library. All audio and video will be found under Music, but here's the frustrating part: all the file names have no apparent relation to the tracks themselves and are organized in a series folders with no apparent pattern. Fortunately, the ID3 tags are still tied to the file so loading it into iTunes or another media player should still give you correct sourcing.

Pictured: Tool concert footage and Minus the Bear's "We Are Not a Football Team (acoustic)"

Manually retrieving photos

As far as images go, for all models of iPod, they're found under the decidedly more public folder Photos, so once you've enabled disk usage, it's pretty easy to find. However, if you haven't checked "include full-resolution photos" under your iPod's Photos tab in iTunes, all you'll see here is a Thumbs folder, which contains the pics in the .ithmb format specifically tailored for the iPod screen. If you're in desperate need of these low-res copies, you can find conversion tools online pretty easiliy.

A final note: formatting for iPods

If you're planning to switch between multiple platforms, save yourself hassle down the line by starting in Windows and selecting Restore from the iPod's info pane. As with USB drives, while a Windows-formatted iPod can be read by multiple operating systems, the same can't be said for those formatted on Macs. Alternatively, going the more traditional route of formatting it as FAT32 from the OS' functions will also work, and the iPod itself will make the proper files and folders itself next time it starts up. With either method, everything on the player will get erased, so if you've got one with important data that isn't readable on a Microsoft machine, make sure to back up what you can on an OS X system first.

Formatting for Windows

  • Go to My Computer

  • Right click on the iPod's icon and select "Format"

  • Make sure File system is set to FAT32 (it should be by default)

  • Hit start!

Note: it should go without saying that if you're iPod's already loaded with music you're trying to save, don't format it.

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