iTunes Tips and Tricks

Apple's iTunes is a vast and sprawling program with much of its power hidden below the surface. To truly get the most out of your iPod, iPhone, or iPad, it helps to know some of its more obscure features. Here are some tips that will help you unlock more of the power of iTunes—and of your mobile device.

Add Web clips to your home screen

WebClipOpening a website normally takes four steps: Home >Safari >Bookmarks >select site name from Bookmarks. You can open frequently visited sites more quickly by creating icons for them on your Home screen.

Add website icons to your Home screen to quickly access frequently visited pages.

Here's how to place a website icon on your Home screen:

1.) WebClipTap the Safari icon on your iPhone and go to the desired website. 

2.) Tap the "+" in Safari's Title bar and select "Add to Home Screen" from the pop-up menu.

  1. Edit the website's name if you wish.
  2. Tap "Add" button in the top right corner of the screen.

Use iTunes to name app folders in iOS 4

With iOS 4, apps can be put in folders to reduce screen clutter. You can create folders and move app icons in and out of them on your iOS 4 device. You can also manage these folders from the iTunes app on your desktop computer. Using the desktop version of iTunes is quicker and easier.

WebClipThe only thing you cannot do in iTunes is create a folder. You must do this on your iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad (when iOS 4.2 is available). To create a folder, hold down on an icon until it starts jiggling. Then drag one icon on top of another. The feature will place both icons in the new folder and give it a name based on the type of apps you've put in it. For example, if you drag one game icon on top of another, the folder will be named "Games." You can change this folder name immediately or later on. It's easier to change a folder name in iTunes.

It's easy to rename folders in iTunes by selecting your device and going to the "Apps" tab.

Here's how you rename folders in iTunes:

  1. Connect your iPhone or iPod touch to your computer, open iTunes, and wait until the syncing is finished (or skip syncing).
  2. Select your device in the left column of the iTunes screen, under the "Devices" heading. 
  3. Go to the "Apps" tab. (Managing apps and folders works the same here as on your iPhone or iPod touch, but is quicker.)  
  4. To rename a folder: Double click on the folder and its contents are displayed along with a dialog box. Modify the folder name in the dialog box.  

Additional folder suggestions:

  • Create folders for similar apps. For example, News, Games, Utilities, Social Media.

  • Make a folder for all the website icons you have on your Home screen (see first tip).

  • Consider placing one or more folders in the Dock at the bottom of the Home screen. For example, I put Calendar, Contacts, Email, and Messages in one folder and added it to the dock.
  • If you have a lot of third-party apps installed, put all of the built-in apps in a separate folder.

Create your own ringtones from MP3s

The simple ringtone hack that was discovered almost three years back still seems to work with the latest version of iTunes. It is based on the fact that iTunes differentiates a song and a ringtone by the file extension: the song file extension is "AAC," the ringtone file extension is "m4r." All you have to do is take a music file that is not more than 30 seconds long, change its file extension to m4r, and copy it to the "Ringtones" section of your iTunes library.

Here's how you do it:

In the iTunes music library, right click on the song you want to make into a ringtone and select "Get Info."

  1. Go to the "Options" tab and go down to the "Start Time" and "Stop Time" check boxes. Check both boxes and input the time you want your ringtone to start/stop (it should not be more than 30 seconds) and click OK.
  2. Right click on your newly "clipped" song and select "Convert Selection to AAC" (or "Create ACC Version"). The song will be re-encoded using the start and stop times determined (Note: If "Convert Selection to AAC" does not appear in the menu; if it instead reads "Convert Selection to MP3" or some other format, you'll need modify your conversion preferences. To do this on a Mac, go to iTunes >Preferences >General and click the "Import Settings" button, then change the "Import Using"drop down menu to "AAC Encoder." The instructions are the same on the PC version of iTunes with one exception: Preferences are found under the "Edit" menu.)
  3. After the song is done encoding, navigate to your iTunes "Music" folder, locate your song, and drag it to your desktop. After the song is on your desktop, go back to iTunes and delete the clipped version from you iTunes library (It won't delete it from your desktop, it will only remove it from iTunes).
  4. Go back to the song on your desktop, right click it and choose "Get info." (On a PC it will be "Properties")
  5. Go to the "Name & Extension" section and change the extension from .m4a to .m4r.
  6. After the extension is changed, simply double-click on the file to add it back to your iTunes library. It should show up under the "Ringtones" section.
  7. Finally, sync your phone with iTunes. Select your iPhone from within iTunes and select the "Ringtones" tab. Check the "Sync Ringtones" box and click "Sync" at the bottom of the screen.
  8. You should now be able to change the ringtone to the new one on your iPhone by going to Settings >Sounds >Ringtone. The new ringtone should show up under "Custom." Tap on it to set it as your default ringtone.

  9. Be sure to go back to change your conversion settings when you're done.

Go to Current Song

You open iTunes and start playing a new CD you recently purchased. Later, while you are browsing for Apps in the iTunes Store, the song that is playing catches your ear and you want to see what it's called or maybe use Ping to indicate you "Like" it. To quickly get back to the currently playing song, simply hit Command+L on a Mac or Ctrl+L on a PC (or click the menu item View > Go to Current Song).

Ping enhancements fix early problems

Apple's new music-oriented social network Ping got off to a rocky start. While social networking is all about finding friends and sharing interests, Ping seems to be all about selling more iTunes content.

Apple and Facebook reportedly had been negotiating for 18 months about allowing iTunes to somehow integrate with Facebook's mature social networking system. When negotiations broke down over what Steve Jobs described as Facebook's "onerous terms," Apple decided to launch Ping using the open "Facebook Connect" API. Facebook blocked access from Ping users the day iTunes launched. This rift between Apple and Facebook cripples Ping.

I don't know about you, but I decide that I like or dislike a song while I'm listening to it, not when I purchase it. In its initial incarnation, Ping reversed this—you could only "like" an album or song while you were in the iTunes store buying it. The release of iTunes 10.0.1 partly addressed this deficiency. In this version, the Genius sidebar has been replaced by the Ping sidebar that lists the activity of people you are following. It also displays "Like" and "Post" buttons for the track you are currently playing (as long as it is available in the iTunes Store). The keyboard shortcut, Command-Shift-G (Ctrl-Shift-G on the PC) previously invoked the Genius sidebar; it now toggles the Ping sidebar on and off.

In addition, when you select a track in iTunes, a new Ping drop-down menu appears. From it, you can "Like" or "Post" a song right in iTunes or jump to relevant pages in the iTunes Store (the Artist Profile, the song, or the genre).

If you find the new Ping drop-down annoying, run the "Change Hidden iTunes Preferences v2.4" AppleScript (, which has been updated to include an option to hide the Ping drop-down.

Return iTunes 9 icon and colorized menu (Macs only

iTunes10BeforeAfterSome of the changes Apple made to the iTunes 10 interface are questionable. The vertical close/minimize/maximize buttons, the monochrome sidebar, the new icon, and other more subtle changes have met with mixed reviews. A variety of ways to undo some of these changes sprang up, but most of them required the user to enter obscure Unix commands in Terminal or replace resources inside of iTunes itself.

The monochrome left-hand sidebar of the iTunes 10 interface (left) is dull and boring compared to the more colorful one found in iTunes 9 (right).

Mac users can safely restore all of the interface changes by using Damien Erambert's "iTunes 109," which can be downloaded from his website ( They can also use the DockArt plug-in (, which changes the iTunes icon in your dock with the cover art of the song you are listening to.

Easily re-link all lost songs in iTunes 10

Sometimes a grey exclamation point will appear next to songs in iTunes, indicating that iTunes cannot locate the file. How does this occur and how can you fix it?

Inside the iTunes folder, there is a file called "iTunes Library" that tells iTunes where the "iTunes Media" folder is located. (This is the folder that actually contains your music, videos, apps, etc.) When iTunes tries to access content (e.g., you try to play a song) it gets the location where the song is stored from the "iTunes Library" file and then looks for it in that location. If it can't find the file, it displays a grey exclamation point to the left of the entry in iTunes.

This can occur for a variety of reasons. iTunes does not dynamically keep track of the location of your media, so if you move your "iTunes Media" folder or anything within it from its original location, iTunes will be unable to find it. Renaming anything inside this folder is also verboten. I found this out the hard way when I changed the name of the folder containing songs by Sinead O'Conner (I didn't like how iTunes chose to spell it). Sure enough, every song had an exclamation point next to it because it could no longer find any of the tracks. The moral of this story: manage iTunes content via iTunes, not the file system. Sometimes it's not clear why iTunes can't find your songs—it's possible that the index has become corrupt.

Trimming tracks in iTunes

BySomeMiracleSometimes a music file contains material at the beginning or the end that you don't want to hear, like crowd noises, an extended drum solo, or my pet peeve—10 minutes of silence. Fortunately, you can tell iTunes when to start and stop playing a song. Follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on a track, select "Get Info,"
  2. Go to the "Options" tab and change the values in start and stop time (see picture).
  3. Sync the songs with your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.

The "Options" tab in "Get Info" lets you trim songs.

Note that this procedure doesn't physically trim the song. It simply tells iTunes when to begin and end the song. To permanently trim the file, download the free sound editor, Audacity (  

How to fix the problem

You can delete all the entries in iTunes with exclamation points and then drag the lost tracks onto the iTunes icon. iTunes then processes the songs and puts them in the correct place inside the "iTunes Media" folder. If you try to play the song, iTunes will open a dialog box that says "The song _____ cannot be played because the original file could not be found. Would you like to locate it?" If you answer "Yes" iTunes locates the file and re-links it. This works fine for a handful of "lost songs" but re-linking hundreds or thousands of songs on a one-by-one basis would be incredibly time consuming.

Fortunately, Apple snuck an enhancement to this feature into iTunes in one of the last versions of iTunes 9 (and this still works in iTunes 10). Now you use the "Locate" feature and iTunes will offer to use the information to find other lost songs!

Add Web clips to your Home Screen; Create your own ringtones; Trimming iTunes tracks; more.
January-February 2011
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