The Apple iPod was first introduced in 2001 as Apple's premiere portable media player. Since then, the term "iPod" has virtually become synonymous with portable media, and MP3 players in general. With four versions of the iPod available as of 2011, many feel compelled to ask if there really is a difference between the iPod and MP3 players in general. A cursory glance might cause one to say, "No, there isn't." However, despite being an MP3-capable portal media player, there are a few distinct differences between the iPod and the conventional MP3 player.
The typical MP3 player is just that -- an MP3 player. It plays MP3 audio sound files and, usually, little else. This means it is technically classified as a digital audio player, as playing audio is it's sole function. As of 2011, however, the iPod is more correctly classified as a portable media player, due to its ability to display other types of media like video, games, text and other features. In this respect alone, there is a clear, functional difference between an MP3 player and an iPod, just as there is a difference between a home stereo system and a television.
The average MP3 player can play generally one format: MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III, more commonly known simply as MP3. While there are many individual players that can play other formats, the conventional MP3 player does not. The iPod is indeed capable of playing MP3 and is frequently used to do so. However, it also can be used to play the Advanced Audio Coding format. This format, which often uses .AAC or .M4A as a file extension, is designed to provide higher quality sound than MP3, at a similar bitrate.
The average MP3 player can be loaded with audio files in any number of ways. Many come packaged with a program specifically designed to make the file-transfer process easier. They can typically also be loaded using simple drag-and-drop copy and paste work from your home computer, like a data mass storage device. Simply dropping the file in the right folder will make it ready to play for most players. The iPod functions differently. If you attempt to drag-and-drop music into the right folders, you may find it doesn't work properly. To play audio files from the playlist, you need to use Apple's iTunes software to load songs onto the iPod.
Many MP3 players come packaged with software designed to make loading songs onto the MP3 player easier, as well as device drivers for installation in case they are needed. This software may have other features, depending on the developer. However, iPod users are given iTunes, which boasts a number of features outside of the ability to transfer files to the iPod. ITunes also features the iTunes Store, where you can purchase music for your iPod and load it in one program. iTunes also can burn music from a CD, create a media library to store on the computer, and transfer photos, games, videos and other applications to the device. Open source alternatives exist if you don't want to, or can't, use iTunes, but it is still the only native program designed specifically for iPod use.
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