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Behind the Story of the iPhone's Default Text Tone 102

An anonymous reader writes "In a fascinating post from Kelly Jacklin, the long time Apple software engineer details how he helped create the default text alert sound on the iPhone — a sound otherwise known as 'Tri-tone.' The history of the the pleasant text alert sound that we've all come to know and love stretches all the way back to 1998, nearly 10 years before the iPhone ever hit store shelves." Here's Jacklin's post.
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Behind the Story of the iPhone's Default Text Tone

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  • Wether you love or hate Apple, it's exactly this attention to detail that makes many of their products special. As long as you pay enough attention to hold them right, of course ;)
    • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @08:30AM (#44540649)

      Or in this case the attention to detail of a sound designer creating a sound effect for a different product that Apple would eventually buy out, and reuse the sound from in another completely different product for a completely different purpose.

      Kudos to Apple for picking a sound out of all the possible Apple-owned sound effects that sounds appropriately "messagey", especially in comparison to the specially-composed ring- and message-tones it had to compete with, but the nerdly attention to detail belongs to someone else.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't for the life of me think of what the 'tri-tone' sounds like.

    On the other hand, the Nokia tune [] is possibly more well known than Mickey Mouse.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      yeah, it ain't popular until the birds are singing it.

      anyways, I think that nowadays they should make them all choose a different tone on first bootup, randomly. for rather obvious reasons.

      +old nokia sms beeps are sms, literally(in morse).

      • by mirix ( 1649853 )

        I seem to think the default one was just 'M', and the 'special' one was SMS, which was a bit long winded.

    • > I can't for the life of me think of what the 'tri-tone' sounds like.

      You know what's funny? I remember at one point (Miami, early 2000s) when you couldn't go *anywhere* without hearing it constantly. Then, almost overnight (circa 2005), it just kind of disappeared(*). Oh, for another year or two, you could still hear it occasionally if you were in South Beach, or someplace around lots of visitors from South America or Europe, but I can't even remember the last time I actually heard a phone playing it.


  • Here's the sound (Score:5, Informative)

    by the_other_chewey ( 1119125 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @08:16AM (#44540603)
    Not being an iThing user myself, I didn't know what this Tri-tone
    is supposed to be. And it doesn't seem to playable at or even linked
    to from any of the story links.

    So here it is [].

    Aaaaah, that one.
    • by psergiu ( 67614 )

      Thanks a lot !
      Mod Parent Up !

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So I've just learnt that Tri-tone is:
        - never going to give me up
        - never going to let me down
        - never going to run around
        - or desert me.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      Just play it out loud, and every hipster around you will reach for their pocket.
      • Not necessarily. For several versions, avast! antivirus used a very similar tone to show that it has downloaded new definitions, followed by a synthesized voice stating "Virus database has been updated."
  • Its no Nokia tune thats for sure.

    Dah dala da da

    (or angry frog for poor quality but memorable)

    • by Enry ( 630 )

      IIRC, Thomas Dolby came up with that one. Or at least made the technology to do polyphonic sound on a phone.

  • Thanks, timothy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @08:22AM (#44540615)

    I know that the Slashdot editors get a lot of stick for apparently being asleep at the wheel, but taking the time to add the original source article and not just the blog provided in the original submission is very welcome.

    • by Nyder ( 754090 )

      I know that the Slashdot editors get a lot of stick for apparently being asleep at the wheel, but taking the time to add the original source article and not just the blog provided in the original submission is very welcome.

      And not get kickbacks from the bloggers?

      • And not get kickbacks from the bloggers?

        I don't think they are smart enough to ask for kickbacks. Ooooo, burn. :-)

        Ah, the old days when you could check slashdot at 3:00AM and see Cowboy Neal diligently posting new interesting articles...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The story of some cute beeps and boops is a pretty low threshold for fascination.

    Captcha: Teh Shiny!

    • Well a lot of great things in the world are very simple. And making something simple isn't always easy, it may take a lot of skill, and trying.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    the pleasant text alert sound that we've all come to know and love

    It's fucking annoying.

  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @08:52AM (#44540757)

    The first thing I did when I got an iPhone 5 was to replace this sound with the much subtler but more recognizable HTC Woodblock sound I've been using for several years. But now I call it Fakeblock for obvious reasons.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      When I eventually figured out what it was I was surprised. It isn't really iconic, any more than the default Windows XP event sound. Generic, mushy, tuneless, forgettable...

      For a while I used the JR East announcement sound: []

    • by Flozzin ( 626330 )
      What really annoys me is there aren't different sounds for different grains of wood or even different wood types themselves. There's really a lot to improve on in the area of wood sounds. Bet you could make a bundle of money making an app that would do different wood sounds effectively.
  • Who's this we you refer to?
  • He used Lisp, nice. Granted it was just for analysis and not to generate self-modifying, evolving code.

  • Having been an Android user for some time, I have always thought that tone we all "know and love" sounds clunky and antiquated. Step back. Look at your surroundings. Find something else that deserves obsession. This isn't it.
  • by Clueless Moron ( 548336 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @09:47AM (#44541075)
    In music lingo, "tritone" just means an interval of six semitones, or an augmented fourth. It's the strange sound you get when playing a C and F# at the same time.
    • In addition to this head-scratcher in the linked article:

      For all you music buffs out there, Jacklin also mentions that he wanted the sound to have a happy vibe, so he particularly experimented with "notes from the major scale, focusing on I, III, IV, V, and VIII" octaves.

      I'm guessing the article writer isn't a musician, not knowing that the VIII and the octave mean the same (although I never hear anyone use VIII; it's octave or in notation "8va" because harmonically the I and the VIII are the same).

      • by harperska ( 1376103 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:05AM (#44541819)

        The original quote from Jacklin's blog is:

        I wanted a happy feel, so notes from the major scale, focussing on I, III, IV, V, and VIII (the octave).

        But yes, it's clear that to the article writer 'octave' was simply a buzzword, and he didn't grasp the significance of the roman numerals. So he assumed that those numerals were different sorts of 'octaves'.

    • ...or a diminished fifth, depending on context :-D
  • Not to be confused (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trumpetplayer ( 520581 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @09:54AM (#44541109)
    Tri-tone as in "melody using 3 tones", not to be confused with the tritone interval [] which is considered the most dissonant interval there is in the so called just intonation system.
    • In fact I've just listened to the tone and it uses the intervals of a perfect fifth up, followed by an octave up (counting from the first note, D), which are the two most consonant intervals of them all, since their frequencies are strongly present on the first note anyway, in the form of natural harmonics.
  • Sarcasm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by greggman ( 102198 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @09:56AM (#44541131) Homepage

    "Know and love"

    When I hear that sound I think (a) asshole should set her damn phone to silent instead of annoying everyone around her (b) uncreative as she's too lazy to pick something more original (c) probably wants to show off her iGadjetness as a fashion statement which makes her seem even more shallow

    Yes, I'm aware these thoughts may reflect poorly on myself as well

    • Or maybe cause you're not sure you'll feel your phone go off and you don't give enough of a crap about it to change it from the default?

      • > maybe cause you're not sure you'll feel your phone go off

        Is not a good excuse to annoy everyone around you.

        And as for this specific sound, if you wanted to make sure you knew it was "your" phone wouldn't it be good to change it so you're not pulling your phone out every time you hear that damn common sound?

        • One of the frustrating things about custom ringtones in the iOS platform has been that for whatever reason, users weren't able to assign custom ringtones to the text notification until iOS 6. That had been a thorn in my toe for several years.
    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Set the clock back 48 years, and watch the first minute of the very first episode of Get Smart. [] It's almost like Mel Brooks could see the future.

  • ... replace the default tone with a recording of a .45 slide racking.

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Or a Remington 12 gauge pump action. With all the movies that use it, that sound has almost become hardwired into our brains to call attention to danger.

      Of course, all I can think about then is getting a phone call during a traffic stop and reaching into your pocket to silence the ringer. "Honestly, officer, it's my ring tone!"

  • Too bad he didn't some how arrange to have royalties paid to himself for each copy of that little sound. :)
  • Route Nagios notifications to your phone and you will never describe your text message notification sound with an adjective "pleasant" :)

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.