Monday, August 30, 2004

iPod Smart Playlists


Seriously, you mean to tell me that people who own iPods, do not know they can custom craft playlists? Its one of the absolute coolest things about iTunes!

In the days of Vinyl, I was a mixed tape junkie. It used to take me hours and hours to make a 90 minute mix. Now it theoretically takes seconds.

But how can you not know about Smart Playlists?

A recent article in the NYT addresses the issue:


"There are ways to circumvent Shuffle - on an iPod at least - by using iTunes, most notably by creating a Smart Playlist. Indeed, one could argue that the most innovative thing about the iPod is not the number of songs that can be stored on it, but the intelligent ways in which the iTunes software can manage users' music. After all, having 10,000 songs on a tiny device is relatively useless unless you can play exactly what you want, when you want it.

Creating Smart Playlists enables users to slice and dice their music libraries using pretty much any criteria they want. One can produce, for example, an entire list of songs that share nothing other than that they occupy the seventh track on their respective albums. The Date Added subcategory can be used as the selection criteria to generate a mix of songs that have been added to the iPod over the course of, say, the last two weeks.

The Smart Playlists function is relatively easy to use - there is even a Web site,, devoted to creating them - but it is more difficult than simply clicking on Shuffle, and it seems to be popular among more technically inclined iPod owners. (Most people interviewed for this article had never heard of Smart Playlists, let alone used them.)"

Here's the discussion of "Shuffle Play"

Shuffle commands have been around since the dawn of the CD player. But the sheer quantity of music on an MP3 player like the iPod - and in its desktop application, iTunes - has enabled the function to take on an entirely new sense of scale and scope. It also heightens the risk that a long-forgotten favorite song will pop up, for better or for worse, in mixed company.

There is an unintended consequence of the allure of Shuffle: it is causing iPod users to question whether their devices "prefer" certain types of music . . . These people are not the only ones who think that iPods have minds of their own. IPod enthusiasts are throwing all manner of Shuffle conspiracy theories around on Internet message boards, ranging from the somewhat plausible to the absurd.

At the discussion site, one posting said: "I'm pretty sure iTunes is not sorting my songs randomly. It seems to learn. I'd say it's using some Bayesian logic and/or simple neural networks to vary probabilities of songs to be selected and adjust parameters of selection by the users history of song skipping."

When confronted with such elaborate theories, Stan Ng, Apple Computer's director of iPod product marketing, laughed. "The funny thing about it is that it really is random," he said. "When you turn on Shuffle Songs, it creates a randomized list of all the music on your iPod without repeating a song."

That is to say, if you listened on Shuffle to all 1,000 songs stored on an iPod Mini, you would theoretically never hear the same song twice, much the way you would never get two queens of hearts if you pulled cards from a single deck one by one. (Conversely, if you select Random on the iTunes Smart Playlist function, you might hear the same song twice in a row, though it is unlikely.)

The popularity of the listening mode led Apple's product design team to add Shuffle to the main menu on the fourth-generation iPod, which was introduced on July 19. Now, instead of having to scroll down into Settings to turn Shuffle on or off, users have it at their fingertips.

Mr. Ng said that the technology behind the Shuffle function has remained the same since the first-generation iPod. He declined to reveal the algorithm used to generate randomness on Shuffle, but said the only reason that an iPod might seem to know a listener's preferences is that the listener, after all, chose the music in the first place.

Tunes, a Hard Drive and (Just Maybe) a Brain
New York Times, August 26, 2004

Posted at 07:51 AM in Music | Permalink


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Posted by: Jessica | Oct 26, 2005 2:12:38 PM

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