08/12/2013 04:37 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

The Origins Of The iPhone's Iconic Ringtone, Explained

For many people, the "boo-dah-ling" of their iPhones has become synonymous with Apple. But the iPhone's default text message ringtone was never originally intended to be part of the phone.

In a recent blog post, audio engineer Kelly Jacklin explained how he conceived the ringtone, which would eventually be called ""Tri-tone" in iOS, back in 1999. Jacklin had a friend who was working on a music app called SoundJam MP and was seeking a noise that would play when a CD was finished burning.

The post is rife with detailed and dense technical explanations, with Jacklin saying that he ended up developing 28 potential tritones made using five different instruments. In terms of what he was looking to accomplish with the tritone sound, Jacklin explained:

I was looking for something "simple" that would grab the user's attention. I thought a simple sequence of notes, played with a clean-sounding instrument, would cut through the clutter of noise in a home or office... I was really into the sound of marimbas and kalimbas at the time, so I thought I'd try both of those... For the notes, I wanted a 3-note sequence, or perhaps 4 notes. I was going for simple, and didn't have much time to devote to being creative, so no fancy timing here, just sequenced notes. I wanted a happy feel, so notes from the major scale, focussing on I, III, IV, V, and VIII (the octave).

While "Tri-Tone" has become most closely associated with the iPhone, it has seen a few prior applications. Starting as the burn-disc noise on SoundJam, Apple eventually bought the app, hired some of the SoundJam team and used the tritone for its own disc-burning completion noise. Apple also used the tritone to signal when new software was done installing on some desktop computers.

When the iPhone shipped in 2007, Jacklin was surprised as anyone when "158-marimba," as the sound was originally named, came as the default text message ringtone.

"Wow! Who'd have thought?" Jacklin wrote in his post.

Read Jacklin's post for the full story, along with a sampling of all the other ringtones that could have heralded a new text on the iPhone.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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