Doing The iPod Shuffle

by , 9:55 AM EDT, August 26th, 2004

The iPod's "Shuffle Songs" feature can be as much of a blessing as a curse to music fans and has also sparked a wave of conspiracy theories regarding just how random the playlist it generates actually is.

Today's New York Times discusses the sometimes controversial Shuffle, which the iPod "has enabled to take on an entirely new sense of scale and scope," with fans of the music player.

One individual describes an incident at a party where well picked consecutive tunes had everyone rocking out until an Elton John track was played. "It was like strike No. 1 against my manhood," he says.

Others believe the small device is capable of reading their emotions, playing appropriate songs when needed. One avid cyclist seems to continually find the iPod picking 50 Cent's "In Da Club," which he finds very motivating, when the work-outs get especially grueling. Another user, however, has stopped using Shuffle entirely after she found the device had a penchant for picking upbeat songs when she was feeling down and more somber tunes when she was in a pleasant mood.

While its easy to believe that something more than pure randomness is at play when Shuffle selects two consecutive songs from the same artist out of hundreds of others or certain songs appear chosen more frequently, Stan Ng, Apple's Director of iPod product marketing, insists Shuffle is random and says the algorithm the iPod users, which he wouldn't discuss, hasn't undergone any changes between iPod revisions.

That doesn't jive with conspiracy theorists insistent that their iPod has tricks up its sleeve or that the player favors some artists and songs over others, but Ng points out that "the anthropomorphizing of the iPod is 'just another example of how much people love them.'"

For those seeking the enjoyment of listening to random songs without playing Russian roulette with an environment's mood, there's always Playlists or Smart Playlists to fall back on, although both require a bit more work than simply selecting Shuffle.

The Mac Observer Spin:

For those of you without an iPod (if there are any of you left), iTunes employs an identical algorithm for shuffling songs and can be used to run your own experiments to test its effectiveness. While we've found ourselves surprised at times by Shuffle, especially when two or three songs from the same artist are picked in a row, we don't believe Shuffle has anything more behind it than what meets the eye.

Now if only Apple would update the software for earlier iPods so everyone can experiment with Shuffle Songs from the main screen...