When ringtones first became popular in the early 2000s, many people embraced them, eagerly setting up unique songs and sounds for each of their contacts. But as smartphones emerged and apps became the hot new way to customize one's mobile device, ringtones began to fade from the conversation, with the incongruous or repeating ringtone even becoming a common punch line in many movies and TV shows.
But as long as our phones have alerts or notifications, some form of the ringtone will be with us, even though it may take a very different form.
"Classic ringtones are on the fadeout," says Jess Kimball Leslie, a trend spotter in New York, "because wearables are embedding the tech onto our bodies." Kimball Leslie cites Ringly, a ring that pairs with your phone and alerts you only when you get the kind of notification that matters to you. Ringly, which aims to ship its product starting in late 2014, allows the wearer to choose which calls, texts, emails and app notifications she wants the ring to alert her of, allowing her to keep her phone in her purse and off the dinner table.
But maybe future phone and device alerts won't be audio-based at all, and like vibrations, will focus on other senses.
"Ringtones will probably become blink-tones — LED lights that tell you when someone's calling," Kimball Leslie speculates. Furthermore, a recent crowd funded campaign for iScent, which turns phone alerts into scented oil vapor that notifies you of your calls via odor, got plenty of mentions in the tech press, though it's difficult to imagine its widespread adoption as an alternative to alerts such as sounds or vibrations.
Thinking even further into the future, Kimball Leslie ties the fate of the ringtone not just to wearables, but to the smart home.
"When all devices are 'phones,' there will probably be some glow-y, zen sound that all the devices in your home produce when someone's calling, so you can walk up to your smart TV, touch it, and start your phone call," she says. "I'm arguing that homes will have ringtones, and phones, out in the universe, will not."
That may be welcome news for some but the traditional ringtone isn't going anywhere right away, of course — so here's how to make your own ringtone out of any part of any song in iOS.