In short: Apple Music Shuffle does not play songs in a truly random order. Instead, it will create a queue based on your most-played songs mixed together with your least-played songs.
Are you wondering whether the Apple Music Shuffle is actually random or not? As a software developer, this topic is something that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.
Does Apple Music Shuffle have an algorithm?
Apple Music Shuffle uses an algorithm that queues a group of songs in a pseudorandom order, based on many data points, such as your listening history and downloaded songs.
Is Apple Music Shuffle truly random?
Apple Music Shuffle is not truly random. In fact, it doesn’t actually put songs in a random order but aims to play a good mix of songs from your library based on several data points.
If the algorithm were truly random, it would be possible for an entire album to play in order. What Shuffle does is put all of your songs into a queue in a pseudorandom order.
A pseudorandom algorithm only appears random, but it is actually an algorithm that uses mathematical formulas to produce sequences of random numbers.
Why is Apple Music Shuffle not truly random?
When Shuffle first came out, it actually played songs in a truly random order. However, many users complained that Shuffle would play multiple songs of the same artists or genre in a row.
The truth is, a certain song could be played every time you put your playlist or library on Shuffle, simply because it has as good a chance as any other song of being played.
The human brain likes to find patterns and designs. So, if you hear five Ed Sheeran songs in a row in Shuffle mode, you are more likely to label it as “not random” when it is actually random.
“The problem with conventional Shuffle algorithms is that they are too random. They lack fairness and uniform distribution.”– Martin Fiedler, software engineer
To illustrate my point, take a look at the picture below. The picture on the left is an example of “simulated random” whereas the picture on the right is an example of “truly random”.
As a music listener, you expect Shuffle to serve you songs with equal distribution, instead of hearing the same songs from the same artists over and over again, although it is truly random.
In response to the complaints, Apple Music now uses Smart Shuffle, a function that controls how likely you are to see songs from the same album or artist grouped together.
The goal of Shuffle has changed from randomly playing songs to playing a good mix of songs in a library. Steve Jobs said it best: “we’re making it less random to make it feel more random.”
For each song in your library, Apple Music Shuffle will keep track of various data points (such as the number of plays) and serve it to you in a queue based on an algorithm.
How does the Apple Music Shuffle algorithm work?
Apple Music’s Shuffle order is “pseudorandom” because their algorithm attempts to make an order of songs that “look random” but aren’t actually picked randomly.
The idea is to serve you a mix of songs from your library while not overplaying or underplaying songs. When you hit Shuffle, the algorithm makes a queue based on the play count.
So, let’s say you Shuffle your library today. Apple Music will create a queue of songs based on your most-played songs mixed together with your least-played songs.
When you turn on Shuffle for the first time, the queue of songs will keep playing in the same order, over and over, unless you choose to reshuffle them again.
If you Shuffle the same group of songs 5 days in a row, you’ll probably notice a pattern in the order because the data (play count and last played) didn’t change much in the span of 5 days.
However, the queue will look noticeably different when you Shuffle today and Shuffle the same library a month from now, especially if you keep listening to different songs during the month.
Make sure to tap the Shuffle button often
Even algorithms and computer-generated “random” numbers aren’t actually random. They can follow subtle patterns that can be observed over long periods of time, or over many instances.
If you want to keep Apple Music Shuffle fresh and unpredictable, here’s how:
Tap Shuffle on your library as often as possible. When you do this, Apple Music will recreate the random traversal path through your playlist (or entire library).
Remember, when you turn on Shuffle for the first time, the queue of songs will keep playing in the same order, over and over, unless you choose to reshuffle them again.
You can also create a Smart Playlist and make criteria to only play songs you haven’t listened to in the last 3 or 6 months, select the “Live updating” checkbox, then Shuffle the playlist.
Now you’’ be able to avoid hearing the same songs over and over again.