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Developer reveals origin of iPhone's tri-tone text message sound

August 12, 2013|By Chris O'Brien
  • The tri-tone sound that iPhone users hear when they get a text message has a long history.
The tri-tone sound that iPhone users hear when they get a text message has… (Associated Press )

Apple's "tri-tone" that sounds when an iPhone receives a text message has become such a part of the fabric of our lives that it's hard to remember a time before we heard it almost every day. 

But in a post over the weekend that has Apple geeks buzzing, San Francisco developer Kelly Jacklin told the long, technical and surprising tale of how this little bit of sound came to be. 

"Back some time in 1998, a friend I used to work with named Jeff Robbin approached me about a project he and Bill Kincaid were working on," Jacklin writes.

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As that project proceeded, the creators decided they needed a sound to alert users that a certain function had finished. Jacklin, a musician, offered to see if he could come up with one.

"I was looking for something 'simple' that would grab the user's attention," Jacklin writes. "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." 

He knew he liked marimbas and he thought it should be a three- or four-note sequence. So he turned to a software program to randomly generate combinations. You can get many more technical details from his post. 

In any case, eventually he selected "158-marimba.aiff" as his favorite. That sound became part of a product called SoundJam MP, which was later acquired by Apple. 

"So imagine my surprise when the iPhone ships, and the default text message tone is... '158-marimba," Jacklin writes.

In case you need a refresher, here's the tri-tone: 

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Here are some other sounds Jacklin considered. Wonder if any of these others would have, ahem, struck the same chord at Apple:



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