Apple Music shuffle is one of the app’s more popular and unique features. How random is it?
Recent studies have shown that, while it may not be predictable, there are certain patterns to how songs are shuffled. So if you’re looking for a truly randomized experience, Apple Music’s shuffle might not be what you’re looking for.
Here’s How Apple Music Shuffling Works:
When you hit the “shuffle” button in Apple Music, the songs in your playlist will be arranged into a hidden, pseudo-random order. If you do not navigate away from the playlist, it will play each track exactly once. A new pseudo-random list will be generated if you navigate away and return.
How Does Apple Music Shuffle its Music?
Apple Music uses a pseudo-random algorithm to mix up your playlists. This is because computers are designed to do things in an orderly, step-by-step manner and aren’t capable of “true” randomness.
This is “random enough” for shuffling your music for the average user, but if that’s the case, why do some users swear that they’re getting songs repeated all the time? Well, there are two possible explanations for this.
One has to do with human memory, and the other could be a consequence of interrupting your playlist.
It’s quite possible that some users only think they hear certain songs more often than usual because they trick themselves into thinking they did. This can happen when we hear a song we like (or hate) several times over a few days and consider it weird.
However, most people hear several songs on repeat without realizing it, mostly because they don’t care or notice.
The other explanation is that the “pseudo-randomization” algorithms reset if you navigate away from your playlist or look at something else on your phone.
That is to say, the shuffled order in which you were listening to your songs is interrupted and then reshuffled, enabling you to potentially hear songs that you’d already just listened to.
Is There a Shuffle Algorithm that Targets Users?
The algorithms used by computers to simulate randomness only create a random order of things, like songs. This is the kind of algorithm that Apple Music uses.
They’re designed to be like rolling a die so that you never know what the outcome will be. These algorithms are not perfect, but they do a good job of simulating randomness.
That said, we can’t say for certain that there isn’t additional data going into the Apple Music Shuffle algorithm because, as far as we know, the code is closed-source.
This means we don’t know what’s going on “under the hood,” so to speak; if additional user data is being factored into the equation, Apple certainly isn’t telling us.
We can say that if there’s anything like that going on here, it’s certainly a lot more subtle than Spotify’s “shuffle” mode, which does prioritize some songs over others.
While we can’t be 100% certain, as far as we can tell, that’s not going on with Apple Music Shuffle.
Is the Order of Songs Randomized Every Time?
Every time you hit shuffle, Apple Music generates a pseudo-randomized version of your playlist that you don’t see and plays the shuffled playlist from beginning to end.
It’s reshuffled every time you leave the playlist and come back.
So if you swap to another playlist and come back, it’ll be shuffled again with a new pseudo-random order.
If you interrupt playback and let your device idle long enough to enter any power-saving or sleep mode, it’ll probably have to reshuffle when you come back too.
Why Does Apple Music Repeat Songs When on Shuffle?
We’ve mentioned how Apple Music will reshuffle your playlist if you navigate away and return, which is the most likely culprit behind repeating songs. Let’s say you listen to a song, we’ll call it “Song A,” then get interrupted by a call.
You pause your music, answer your phone, and return to your music after you’re done. You listen to a couple of songs on shuffle, and then suddenly, “Song A” comes on again.
Your call could have possibly reshuffled the algorithm, causing “Song A” to return, even though you just listened to it.
Apple Music then reshuffles your playlist, and because it’s a fresh shuffle, you risk coming across songs you’ve already listened to.
Now, if you come across songs on a shuffled playlist that you swear you were listening to uninterrupted, meaning no reshuffling would have occurred, then we’re as stumped as you.
The bottom line here is that Apple Music shuffle is not perfectly random. Still, neither is almost any computer program in existence, and pseudo-random algorithms get the job done well enough.