iphone tri-tone

The iPhone is such an iconic handset that a number of its features are instantly recognizable. The app-laden Home screen, the single Home button below the touch screen. Heck, even the sounds—how many of you check your phone when you hear the Tri-tone alert?

Well as it turns out, there’s actually an interesting story behind that chime, which dates all the way back to 1998. It actually started as the sound to alert a user when a CD burning session was complete in an app called SoundJam, which was later acquired by Apple…

TUAW points to the tale from long-time Apple software engineer Kelly Jacklin, who was working on an MP3 player for the Mac called SoundJam MP with fellow developers Jeff Robbin and Bill Kincaid when the need for a simple ‘burning session complete’ alert arose.

“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. So I had two tasks: pick an instrument, and pick a sequence of notes. Simple, right? Yeah, says you; everyone’s an armchair musician…

I was really into the sound of marimbas and kalimbas at the time, so I thought I’d try both of those. I also went through bank (after bank) of sounds built into the SW1000XG, auditioning instrument sounds, and found three other instrument sounds that I liked: a harp, a koto (Japanese zither), and a pizzicato string sound (that’s the sound a violinist makes when plucking the string, rather than bowing it).”

Interestingly enough, Apple went on to purchase SoundJam in early 2000 as part of an effort to build a suitable MP3 player for its desktop. The team’s app development continued in Cupertino, where it eventually evolved into iTunes, which launched Apple launched in 2001.

Jump ahead to the iPhone’s release in 2007:

“So imagine my surprise when the iPhone ships, and the default text message tone is… “158-marimba”, now going by the clever (and not actually accurate, from a music theory perspective) name “Tri-Tone”. Time goes by, and this sound becomes iconic, showing up in TV shows and movies, and becoming international short-hand for “you have a text message”… Wow! Who’d have thought?”

The entire article is worth reading, so check it out if you get the chance. Another cool little side note is that, according to their LinkedIn profiles and Wikipedia, all of these guys still work at Apple.

  • jocastro

    never use it, dont care……… a side note

    this isn’t news o, but very crappy news, im sure you can come up with something better then ringtones, woppiieee for the guys who made the tri-tone.

    • iosPixel

      I disagree. I found this interesting even though I too dont use it.

    • Diego Gastón Milano

      I don’t use the Tri-Tone tone either but I do appreciate the story behind things if they are worth telling.

      Understanding and appreciating history behind things -as I’m sure there are a lot out there- is something that also comes along when growing up.
      Fortunately there are those people out there who do appreciate the story behind things.

      Not only I disagree but your comment is childish and reflects how immature you are; grow up and stop whining about things.

      Yes, I am one of the many who voted/will vote your cheap criticism down. 🙂 Don’t bother replying, comments from people like you are not even worth reading so save yourself the effort. 😉

      • William Melendez

        Is there anyway I could give you two thumbs up ! lmao

    • Johannes Mertens

      I like those Behind-the-scenes Stories.


      For every person who doesn’t use it and doesn’t care, there is someone who does. Thanks for your contribution.

    • diggitydang

      I don’t wear Nike’s, but I love the story about how the logo came to be. I don’t use Tri-Tone but same thing – still interesting to know its origin. I do think you should chill with the attitude though. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it crap, as you can tell from the replies. It’s arrogant and rude, in fact. iDB, keep up the great work!

  • bw00ds

    Some people just enjoy being negative. That’s why they sign as “Guest.” Pitiful.