Ben Dodson

Freelance iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Developer

Thoughts on ringtones

Today I spent a little bit of time making a new iPhone message tone1 and it reminded me of how terrible the entire ringtone system is on iOS. I have a number of specific issues:

Overpriced - most ringtones cost the same as a full song despite the fact they are shorter than the free preview on iTunes or they are a couple seconds of audio from a TV show or film. The pricing hasn’t changed since the ringtone store was launched in iOS 3 but the quality has definitely deteriorated with a number of dubious looking alert tones ripped from TV shows or YouTube videos.

DRM - as well as being shorter than a full song for the same price, they are subject to DRM whereas music is not. They’re also in a proprietary format so you can’t re-use them on non-Apple devices.

iTunes - you can create your own ringtones using GarageBand2 but the only way to get them onto your iPhone or iPad is to do a sync with iTunes. Eugh! We were supposed to have moved away from this when iOS 6 cut the iTunes cord but I couldn’t find any other way to get the *.m4r file over to iOS (I tried messaging it to myself and using Dropbox but neither option allowed you to then save it to your settings).

iCloud - for some bizarre reason, ringtones are not synced via iCloud in the UK so if you haven’t backed them up you’ll lose them when setting up a new device. There is no option to redownload them from iTunes and if you purchase one you’ve previously downloaded you will be charged (you don’t even get a “you’ve previously purchased this” dialogue like you do with music, tv shows, and movies). I’ve purchased a few tones in the past3 but none of them are available to me unless I pay again.

I don’t have a solution to this (apart from killing the ringtone store and allowing you to just use MP3 files) but it is an area of the iOS ecosystem that is definitely showing it’s age. At the moment, you either have the expense and DRM protected (with no redownloads) way of purchasing or you can jump through hoops making your own and trying to get them onto your device. I’m not sure how either is seen as acceptable.

  1. It’s Han Solo shouting ‘BEN!!’ from Star Wars: The Force Awakens ↩︎

  2. I’m specifically referring to GarageBand on the mac although I believe it is also possible with GarageBand for iOS. ↩︎

  3. I used to have the T-Rex Roar from Jurassic Park as the alert for my wife but she didn’t care for it; I now have Lando Calrissian saying “Hello, what have we here?” ↩︎

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