Should You Upgrade Your iPod touch 2G?

You might wonder why owners of the 2nd Gen iPod would bother upgrading it to iOS 4.0. I mean considering it can't multi-task, bluetooth connect to a keyboard, or allow you to change the plain black default background, what's the point? You might be wrong to wonder that though, especially if you also happen to be an owner (and have not yet upgraded). There are some very compelling reasons for grabbing the free iOS 4 update (and some risks). Allow me to walk you through the process, and point out some of the important advantages (and the problems).

I am not what you would call an early adopter like some on our blogs. I use my gadgets to do a lot of testing and reviews, and I get years worth of use from them before moving to the next thing. I expect them to work well and for a long time. I have owned iPods since they first came out, and quickly recognized them to be a truly superior product. My 8GB 2nd Gen iPod was a birthday gift from nearly 2 years ago. I have kept it in a protective case, and a good charge on it, so it looks and functions practically as well as the day I bought it. Both me and my wife have 1st Gen Nanos that still hold a charge through a full 1-2 hour workout, years after they were purchased. I will soon donate my touch to someone when the next revision comes out (hopefully for my next Burfday).


Three things you should know about upgrades in general (good, and bad) that are almost always true:

  • Upgrades that add mucho new features also usually add some overhead or system impact because of it. New features typically require more code. More code can add up to more storage space, CPU time and memory when running. This can increase load, eating battery and resources, causing slowdowns and even affect system stability.
  • Upgrades often fix and optimize the OS, thereby in other respects, improving performance.
  • An upgrade (at least for a whle), is usualy an option, not a requirement. Most new apps will still be backwards compatible, while many old ones may not be forwards compatible. Also, many bugs will get sorted after a few revisions.

If it isn't broke then why mess with it? Your iPod 2G is working today, your apps load okay and you are happy with it the way it is. It's usually a crap shoot if you will see a net gain or loss in usability after any upgrade (many XP users would argue that Vista, for example, was a net loss). With Apple products, my impression is that it is usually a net gain to go with the upgrade. The iOS 4 upgrade is one of those cases IMO, but I must warn you that if you are relying on an old app that may have difficulties with the new OS, you might want to research this first and think twice. Many apps I have installed I was able to update, but some I could not (and they may never be updated). There is no guarantee all your apps will work after the upgrade, and in fact some of mine aren't working, or at least not working well. This is probably the first iPod upgrade of note (at least in my experience) that involves a full reload of apps, etc. So understand that your device will be wiped and reloaded with a new OS as part of this process, and anytime this must be done, there is a risk you might lose something.

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Apple has an effective and fairly simple upgrade process. It does everything though iTunes, so you pretty much go have a tea, lunch or a nap (which is what I did) while it runs. Here are the steps I used, so hopefully if you follow this, you will similarly have good luck. The whole thing takes more than an hour, which I don't understand (I mean it's an 8G iPod?). I can usually download and install a full Ubuntu build on my home PC in about the same amount of time? The upgrade will require a little interaction, but mostly you just let it do it's thing. Here is what I did:


1. Ran an iTunes update first. I always try to keep iTunes updated (mostly in the hopes it will get faster on Windows, but it never seems to).


2. Backed up and synced my iPod via iTunes and made sure to disconnect and reset it before hooking it back up to my PC with the sync cable. Probably not required, but can't hurt.

3. Ran the iOS software upgrade in iTunes on the computer I use to sync with. It downloads and installs the software, and restores your apps and music at the end. When you connect your device, iTunes should detect that an update is available (depends on your settings), but you can easily manually check for updates after docking your touch.


4. Disconnected my iPod (after a final sync).   


NOTE: Everything restored (even my WiFi connection). Be patient!! Many things will happen and iPod must have all apps and data copied back. Reset and dark screen is normal during parts of this. You must strongly resist any urges to screw with it.


7. Updated all my apps over WiFI using the app store, which is faster than using iTunes.


8. Performed a final reset of my iPod... This now seems to take a litle less time than before.


What it did (or didn't do) for my 2G iPod touch:

    -It did not change the iOS screens, icons and fonts, or if it did, it isn't anything obvious. In fact, there isn't much on the surface to indicate you have a new version of software running. There are no major UI changes that I could readily detect (if you don't count using folder icons to group apps),. There are many improvements under the hood, though. 


    -Folders. You might not think this is a big deal until you consider all the swiping you do to get to apps. Your finger will appreciate this enhancement very much. You simply drag icons onto each other to create categories of Apps, instead of having to rifle through screens to find something.



    -Better Search. You can now use Bing as your search engine and you get more search functionality in the Spotlight Search-- Not only can you search the local device, but also now search Wikipedia or the web. Web searches wil launch in Safari.



    -Spell Check (misp underlined in red, and tapping will display replacements). I do not  mispeill words...ahem, so wouldn't likely notice this enhancement. Nevertheless, I have heard that it is in there.



    -Better Control of Location data/apps. Apps can now be individually configured to use location services (or not). Before you had the choice of either turning the global service on/off. This is an enhancement if you are concerned about a particular app querying your location information.



    -Unified and Threaded mail. Multiple account messages can now be viewed together (at the top-level mailbox selection). Nice touch this, and you can now view and delete multiple mails under threads (an added option). The threading applies to messages and REs to the message topic, but unlike gmail's excellent grouping/threading, it does not extend to multiple messages with the same subject.

    -Email Date Strings. Text that resembles a day and time (i.e. tomorrow afternoon) can be used to create events in your calendar, and you can also use delivery tracking numbers to track packages.

NOTE: There are a ton of e-mail, contact, and calendar enhancements that I don't cover here, including enhancements for opening attachments, mobile me alias, Gmail and more. You can learn more about these new features on this in-depth iLounge article here.


   -Better security. Using a pin is better than nothing, but now you can use a more secure passphrase (without needing to use the iPhone config utility).


    -App Store. You can now gift apps directly from the App Store app, which is handy if you have a lot of app addicted friends or family.



    -YouTube Video Playback. Portrait mode is now supported in the video player, though the video still loads in landscape, and then must be tilted to portrait mode. I use YouTube on my touch alot, so noticed this one.



    -Music. You can actually create playlists from the device, and a few more excellent enhancements like the ability to sync folders from iTunes. Ipod out is a new feature that will allow car stereos (with this embedded support) to manage playback.


    -iBooks. I'm a Stanza guy, but added iBooks after the upgrade (course the app works with 3.2 or later), and am checking it out. So far, book prices seem nose-bleed high. Good selection of free and classic books for sure. Everyone here on the blog seems crazy about it.

NOTE: I barely grazed some of the noteworthy features that I noticed after my upgrade, but promptly went to the iLounge (one of my favorite authoritative iPhone/iPod sources) and located a great 3-part post by Jesse Hollington. Part 1 includes full details on Install, Settings and much more. Part 2 covers Mail, Contacts, and Calendars. 3 covers pretty much everything else (Safari, iPod Out, etc.) so definitely go check it out.


    -Issues. No upgrade comes without some bugs. I have noted pretty egregious problems with 2 of my apps so far. The Top Gun app crashed completely and wouldn't load my current mission (a re-install might fix that, though but have not gotten round to that yet), and GL Golf Lite has a screen freeze problem (which continued even after installing the latest version). The GL Golf problem occurs after initially hitting the ball, and is only for a second or so, but it did not do this before the upgrade. I also tried getting podcasts in iTunes (from engadget), but they kept failing to download. I will have to re-check this with some other casts to verify it was not something local to their feed. I have tested nearly all of my apps, and these are so far the only problems I have noted.

  -Performance hits. There is definitely a slight impact to the speed of my 2G touch after applying this update. It seems to mostly affect the initial startup and loading of apps, but after they are running, they seem fine. Some users have complained about WiFi not sleeping, which results in a faster battery drain. I have not suffered this problem.

So, if you are still wondering whether to upgrade your iPod touch 2G, make sure to check out the links I provided above for more research. If you have an app that you rely on heavily, you can use the app store app, iTunes (or a browser) to check if there is an update (Should indicate if app is iOS 4 tested on it's main product info page). If not, you might consider contacting vendor support or visiting the vendor's web site to see if one is forthcoming. You may also want to consider going to the product page and checking the reviews to see if there have been any recent complaints indicating problems. Lastly, stay tuned to our blogs, and of course Apple user forums for the iPod touch...

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Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the and blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at or e-mail him at