UPDATE: With the Sept. 2010 release of iTunes 10, Apple removed the ability to create custom ringtones from iTunes. Ringtones can now be made using:
When the iPhone was announced, it was widely assumed that songs from the music library would be used as ringtones. As it turned out, the iPhone shipped with just a default set of ringtones. A bit limited, but most people assumed that ringtones would be coming soon enough – and a few third-party programs sprung up to fill the void in the meantime.
The Arrival of Official iPhone Ringtones
About two months after the iPhone’s release, ringtones arrived from Apple, in the form of a tool built into iTunes 7.4. And the tool is excellent. It makes creating your own ringtones a snap – it’s a great example of making a potentially tricky process very simple. Unfortunately, the tool isn’t the whole experience, and it’s the rest of the official Apple ringtone process that drags the offering down.
By enabling a single option in iTunes 7.4, users can see whether their songs are eligible to be turned into ringtones. Here is one of the first problems – it turns out that only songs purchased from the iTunes Store can be made into ringtones. Have a collection of hundreds of CDs that you want to make into ringtones? Sorry – can’t do it through iTunes. You can only use the songs from the iTunes Store, and at the launch of the service only about 500,000 of the store’s 6 million songs were eligible.
Apple Blocks Third-Party Ringtone Programs
To make matters worse, Apple is hostile to third-party ringtone programs and has blocked them with software updates to both iTunes and the iPhone, further curtailing your ability to make your own ringtones from music you own.
Once you’ve found an eligible song, a few simple steps launch the ringtone creator tool built into iTunes. And this software really is a marvel. It lets users change basic settings such as a fade in or out, what part of the song will be used as the ringtone, and how long the ringtone is. With simple, clear tools, creating your own ringtone is easy, fast, and fun.
When you’ve created the ringtone you want, you can preview and then buy it. A ringtone costs $0.99 and lasts forever, assuming you don’t delete or lose it. This isn’t a terrible price, especially considering that some ringtones cost $3 and others expire after a few months. However, this is $0.99 in addition to the $0.99 you already spent on the original song from the iTunes Store. While $2 is still better than $3, if you bought the song, you own it, and should be able to do what you want with it. This second payment is likely a nod by Apple to record labels, but more importantly to musicians, who understandably want to get paid for this use of their music.
The purchase process is just as smooth as from the iTunes Store and syncing the ringtones to the iPhone is a snap.
A Flawed First Attempt
Taken in isolation, Apple’s iPhone ringtone creation and purchase system is a great little app and a fair price. But, when it taken in context, and weighed with its limitations, it starts to look a lot less inviting. Future revisions of the tool should allow users to make ringtones of songs they own but didn’t buy from the iTunes Store, shouldn’t block third-party programs from making legitimate ringtones, and should do something about pricing (after all, $0.99 for a song is reasonable, but how is $0.99 for just a snippet of that same song equivalent?).
For now, the iTunes ringtone creator and purchase system is an interesting, but flawed first step. That’s not an uncommon judgment for new Apple products. Here’s hoping that later revisions will iron out the kinks and offer a great tool to iPhone owners.