UPDATE: June 21st, 2010. iOS 4 on the iPhone does away with the iPod app’s On The Go Playlist (last item on your playlist) and has replaced it with Add Playlist … (now the first item in your playlist) — which functions similarly.
- Run the iPod app on your iPhone.
- Click on Add Playlist … (first item in your playlist).
- Create a new playlist by giving it a temporary name (e.g. oldName+, to remind yourself what to rename it to, later in iTunes), then Save it.
- Navigate to your playlists view (top left) if need be — you don’t want o add individual songs but copy whole playlists.
- Select the playlist you want to copy and then from the top of that playlist you’ll find the magic option Add All Songs — the songs in that list will grey out.
- Finally follow that by Done (upper right).
- You’ll now be looking at your new playlist, check to see that it has all your songs listed in it.
- Your new playlist will appear at the bottom of your old playlists, not in alphabetical order.
- Rinse and repeat to copy old playlists into new playlists.
- Sync to iTunes.
- Rename the new playlists on iTunes, back to their old names.
- Sync again.
Please read through the entire conversation which follows to better understand the process, precautions, limitations and user experiences …
The iTunes application has a gaping UI problem, it’s far too easy to delete a playlist and, once deleted, it can’t be undone! I’m not talking about having deleted the original song files, just the playlists you assemble — which point to songs in your music library. We all invest hours in selecting and sequencing our music into playlists. To lose a playlist can be pretty tough!
While working in a playlist you can have two different things selected — the playlist name and one or more songs in that playlist. So which will it trash when you hit the delete key? The selected songs or the whole playlist? It depends on which of the two was most recently selected and, therefore, the darkest of the two different selections. Madness. So with just a modicum of inattentive clumsiness you can easily kill off a whole playlist when you really mean to remove only a single track from it — and there’s no Edit>Undo safety net behind this function.
If you’re actually paying attention to the delete confirmation messages you’ll be warned whether your selection will delete playlists or songs, but we easily glaze over long, repetitive warnings.
In the images which follow, the playlist will be trashed if you hit delete while the selection in the first image is showing and the selected songs if the selection in the second image is showing — it’s but a matter of shading or remembering which you last selected. The red arrows are mine, for emphasis.
Do you have a recent backup? This isn’t to shame you, but as you’ll read in the appended comments, one reader remembered that he had Time Machine going on his Mac and was able to recover his playlist from it. If not, read on.
If you have the missing playlists still synced to your iPod do not sync your iPod yet, not until you have read through the following procedure …
I’m going to show you how to recover playlists from your iPod. There is no need for any special utilities here, we’re not recovering the music tracks themselves, just the playlist information which points to songs already in your music library.
On you iPod you have, as your very last playlist a system created list called “On-The-Go”. It’s a means to create a playlist on the fly, on your iPod, which will synch back to your iTunes. When your On-The-Go playlist is empty, it instructs you “When a song is selected, press and hold the center button to add it to the On-The-Go playlist. Press and hold on a playlist, artist, or album to add all of its songs to the On-The-Go playlist.” (the emphasis is mine). There appears to be a firmware limit in the iPod which maxes out On-The-Go playlists to 1,000 songs — so this won’t work if you’re trying to recover playlists larger than that, sorry.
Select the first of your missing playlists, hold down the center button on your iPod until the selection flashes — then go down to your On-The-Go playlist to check that all the tracks of that playlist have been copied into On-The-Go. If you only have the one playlist to recover, that’s pretty much it with your iPod, skip the next paragraph.
If you have more than one playlist to recover then we have to save your current On-The-Go playlist into a new list of its own: To do that, enter your On-The-Go playlist, scroll down the songs in it to the bottom two command lines. One is “Clear Playlist” and the other is “Save Playlist”. You’ll want to click on “Save Playlist” and then again on the next “Save Playlist” to confirm. Back out of your playlists and you’ll see a “New Playlist 1″ has been added to your existing playlists and your On-The-Go list has been cleared out, ready to start afresh. Repeat this for each of the playlists you need to recover from your iPod.
Time to synch: This only works if your iPod is set to sync automatically (you will not be able to see nor sync your On-The-Go playlists if you sync manually). If you have created new playlists on your iPod and/or if your On-The-Go playlist contains song names then they will be synched back to your iTunes. Once again, not the files, just the names in your new playlists.
In iTunes you’ll find playlist names like “On-The-Go” and “New Playlist 1″ etc.: Simply rename these recovered, fully functional, playlists to whatever they were called before you accidentally deleted them. After another synch with your iPod your playlist universe will be restored.
FOLLOW UP: How I got myself banned from MacRumor Formus: After trying to find a solution to my own problem in various forums last night, I went back to post my solution to two similar unresolved questions I had come across in MacRumor Forums. For my troubles they banned me outright as a spammer for a synopsis and a link back to this post.
I wrote to MacRumor’s Arn Kim to reconsider the banning …
Wed 12th November 12.35am
Banned for helping, really?
Arn: Why did I deserve an outright/immediate/permanent ban for posting a couple of helpful answers to a question I struggled with last night? How to recover accidentally deleted iTunes playlists from an iPod (not the music files, just the playlist’s song names). After not finding answers in your forums and others I came back to post a solution that worked for me. I didn’t try to sell anything, no utilities were required nor referenced. Just plain sharing of information in a spirit of community. My banning was a very heavy handed and unwarranted response. Please review and reconsider. Thanks, Harry
My username in your forums is slapphappe, the step-by-step solution I linked to is at https://slapphappe.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/how-to-recover-an-itunes-playlist/
MacRumor Forum’s Doctor Q wrote back “Since the moderators can’t determine intent in a precise way, they look for patterns they have learned to recognize. Among the signs are posting the same message in more than one thread, posting links to the same website in every single post, and posting in threads that do not contain active discussions. All three signs applied to the posts you made, which is why the moderators judged your purpose in posting to be self-promotion.”
I appealed to be reinstated on the basis that bringing closure to old unresolved forum questions is important because they show up in current search results. Doctor Q wrote back “Your explanation makes sense. Having well-meaning people sometimes fit a ‘problem profile’ is a risk we live with, so we apologize and have reactivated your account”.