MORE than 60 million iPods have been sold since the first model of Apple's portable music player made its debut in 2001, giving rise to a generation hooked to -- and on -- its earbuds. For travelers, though, the iPod can be more than a passive plaything that keeps the world at bay.
Depending on the model, your iPod can find restaurants, juggle reservations, track down tours and attractions, help you navigate subway systems and, of course, keep you entertained.
To make it work for you while on the road, you'll need to download listings and other information from the Internet before you leave home.
Here's how to get more out of your iPod than the latest Snow Patrol CD. (Note: The iPod Shuffle, which has no screen, is not usable for these services):
Find tours and attractions
Wouldn't it be great to have a complete guide to your destination in the palm of your hand? With programs such as AudioSteps, BlueBrolly and PodGuides, you can.
AudioSteps (www.audiosteps.com) offers digital audio walking tours of New Orleans, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. For those traveling to London, BlueBrolly (www.bluebrolly.com) has a great selection of audio walks for areas including Westminster, Soho, Chinatown, Greenwich, Covent Garden, St Paul's and more.
PodGuides, at www.podguides.net, puts a spin on things by offering a digital map and some small pictures, along with the audio tracks explaining what you're seeing as you walk along. It's a new idea, so only a few guides are available on PodGuides, but the ones currently available, such as Brussels and the Opal Coast in France, are quite good. It's like having your own tour guide.
Find your way around
Getting places can get confusing. So, download iSubwayMaps' maps (www.isubwaymaps.com) before you go. Showing the underground systems for Tokyo, Chicago, San Francisco and more, they definitely come in handy and are easy to read with the video iPod's 2 1/2 -inch screen.
Also available for download is iPod + Yahoo! (www.ipod-directions.com) Yahoo Directions, which is similar to MapQuest.
Not only do you get pictures, but you also get text describing exactly how to go. That way, you can impress your friends with your almost uncanny ability to know how to get exactly where they want to go.
They'll think you're a genius.
If your hotel doesn't have a concierge, finding a nice local restaurant can be a challenge. You might decide to cruise the area looking for a suitable place to dine, but for those of us who aren't as adventurous, head back up to your room and grab your iPod.
With it and Restaurant Spy (www.restaurantspy.com), you can browse hundreds of restaurant listings for almost anywhere your travels take you. But because Restaurant Spy doesn't cover every area of the world, you can also run a search on Google for keyword "CITY NAME restaurant iPod," which will often turn up a list of local restaurants that you can download to your iPod.
Keep track of reservations
Planning a big trip means handling numerous reservations. Your iPod can help. It can synchronize with your scheduling program -- whether you use Microsoft Outlook on a Windows PC, or iCal on a Mac.
It's a fairly straightforward process. Input your reservation dates and times for your trip, then sync with your iPod. When the day arrives for dinner at your favorite multi-star restaurant, your iPod will alert you. And that's a good thing, especially when the restaurant requires a credit card to hold the reservation, as many now do.
Airline travel means you often have spare time on your hands where you're doing nothing more than waiting in line at Starbucks or sitting in a cramped seat at 35,000 feet.
Having an iPod close by can help pass those in-between times. Check out features such as viewing photos, watching movies, playing games and, of course, listening to your favorite tunes. Learn more at: www.apple.com/support/ipod/howto/.
Of course, don't forget the main reason you bought your iPod in the first place. More and more chains are offering docking stations so you can listen to the music on speakers in your hotel room.
For example, Hilton is building the docks into alarm clocks being installed throughout the chain. Other chains adopting the technology include Hyatt and Marriott.
Individual hotels are also offering the service, including the Crescent in Beverly Hills and the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York.