July 20, 2009
The Evolution of Ringtones
When Alexander Graham Bell prepared himself for the first phone call way back in 1876, one can only imagine that someone prepped him ahead of time to let him know Thomas A. Watson was calling. Otherwise, we’re not quite sure how he knew someone was on the line. Subsequent phone calls, however, quickly necessitated some sort of noise to alert people there was a person on the other end of the phone. After all, sitting around all day waiting for someone to finally start talking would have been a pretty poor use of time, even for the late 1800s. And so, the world was blessed with the ringtone.
Over the years, the history of ringtones has grown considerably: from the rotary tones of yesteryear to actual pop music tracks. But, it took a lot of innovation and a long road of progress to get us to the point where movies can be interrupted by crystal clear hip-hop instead of a conventional ringer or a grating MIDI. The below timeline offers a look at the evolution of ringtones over the years, and the way the cell phone ringer has evolved rapidly over the last two decades.
1876 – 1995 (Choose From One Exciting Ringtone)
Yes, there was more than one noise a phone would make, but up until NEC released a mobile phone in 1996 that came with a few preset songs, you were pretty much stuck with whatever your phone happened to sound like. Still, there were some significant advances throughout this time period. A few of the most noteworthy ones have been included below.
The 1890s through the early 1900s featured the old-school “candlestick” telephones where one piece was used as a headset and another as the transmitter.
In April of 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper made the first call from a portable cell phone. However, it wasn’t until almost 10 years later, in 1982, that cell phones were beginning to be sold in the U.S.
In the early 1970s, AT&T offered what could be considered some of the first user-chosen ringtones. They provided seven different, and distinct, gong combinations in an effort to assist the hearing-impaired and also make it easier to keep track of which phone was ringing when there were several phones in close proximity. And, in 1975, the FCC made it acceptable for manufacturers to begin producing similar, even more specialized devices, that could be attached to existing phone lines.
Old rotary ringtone:
By 1989, cell phones are being aggressively marketed, and commercials are beginning to appear on TV.
The year 1992 marked the release of the Motorola International 3200, which was the first digital hand-sized mobile phone. What it lacked in portability, it more than made up for with an impressive looking antenna.
2001 (Presets, MIDI & Downloadable Ringtones)
With the release of the succinctly named Digital Mova N103 Hyper in 1996, there was suddenly a little more flexibility in what your phone would sound like. Instead of a boring and conventional sounding traditional ringtone, you had glorious monophonic clarity.
Nokia Mano Ringtone:
Following directly on NEC’s coattails, Denso released a phone just a few months later that allowed users to input their own original melodies one painstaking note at a time. The phone was extremely popular in Japan, and even sparked a mobile ringtones book that was released in 1998 and sold over 3.5 million copies. Capitalizing on a rapidly growing market, Harmonium, the first downloadable ringtone service was created in Finland later that very same year.
The idea was quickly replicated as other companies popped up across the globe offering similar services, and, in 2002, the breakthrough everyone who craves more than one note at a time had been waiting for finally arrived: polyphonic ringtones.
2002 – Present (Polyphonic & Truetone Raise the Stakes)
In 2002 we saw the introduction of the first polyphonic cell phone ringers. The Nokia 3510 finally delivers the ability to be greeted simultaneously by multiple notes. In the following year, cell phone companies begin adopting a new MIDI standard that allows polyphonic sounds.
Polyphonic Razr Ringtone
In April of 2006, Cingular Wireless, InfoSpace and MySpace partner to provide Cingular Mobile Music Studio so that unsigned bands on MySpace can create and distribute ringtones via their MySpace page.
SendMeMobile is founded in June of 2006 with a focus toward making wireless entertainment more accessible to the average consumer.
Ringtones evolve again with the introduction of Truetone, or Realtone, capabilities. Suddenly it’s not just a version of the song, but rather the actual song alerting people to their every call. By 2007, mobile music generates over 13 million dollars in global revenue.
The iPhone is introduced in the U.S. on June 29, 2007 and is awarded honors as Time Magazine’s Invention of the Year. iTunes integration allows users to convert any previously purchased music into ringtones, making customization easier than ever before.
True Tone Ringtone:
In terms of detail, it’s hard to top Truetone, but if you’re looking to take it up another notch you can always hire a musician to hold your phone on vibrate and just burst into song for you whenever it goes off. If not, you’ll just have to see where ringtones are headed next. Until then!
Posted by A. Sogal at 5:28 am