Events overtook drafts of this review on a daily basis last week, but my iPhone ringtone experience has been perfectly stable, thanks to Ambrosia Software's iToner for Mac OS X.
On Friday, August 31, 2007, Ambrosia released iToner, a $15 program that let you add custom ringtones to your iPhone. There were rumors that Apple was planning to release ringtones soon, but no firm details. I've never been a custom ringtone kind of guy, but something about the iPhone begs for customization, so I immediately got started.
On Wednesday, September 5, Apple announced that they would be releasing ringtones in the next version of iTunes, some time in September. Those ringtones would be limited to a subset of songs available in the iTunes Music Store, and would cost 99 cents on top of the price of the track itself.
On Thursday, September 6, Apple released iTunes 7.4. While the iTunes Music Store remained without ringtones, the new release of iTunes did disable all custom ringtones that people had created using iToner and other approaches. I didn't install iTunes 7.4, but waited to see if Ambrosia could let me keep my custom ringtones.
On Friday, September 7, Ambrosia released iToner 1.0.1, which worked with iTunes 7.4 and would let me keep my ringtones as-is. Other people found other workarounds to get free ringtones into their iPhones.
On Saturday, September 8, Apple released iTunes 7.4.1, which broke the other workarounds, but had no effect on iToner. (Since then, people have found more workarounds, so that if you have a hacked iPhone, you can still upload free ringtones.)
On Wednesday, September 12, Apple released ringtones into the iTunes Music Store. Early experiences have been disappointing, even frustrating, and most certainly expensive.
iToner continues to work like a charm. I downloaded version 1.0.1, then downloaded iTunes 7.4.1, and never saw any disruption of my ringtones, not even for a moment.
How It Works
Using iToner couldn't be any more simple. Launching the app brings up a window that looks like an iPhone, and any audio files dragged to the interface from the Finder or iTunes are ready to sync to the iPhone. iToner handles all of the file mapping and audio processing and moving the files to the iPhone automatically. I currently have 36 custom ringtones loaded, eight of which are from the iTunes Music Store and 28 of which are ripped from CD. While iToner accepts full-length songs, all of these have been trimmed to 36 seconds or less except for one I use as my alarm clock. The files include .m4p, .m4a, and .mp3. iToner handles them all easily.
The iToner interface lists only the custom ringtones, and won't let you delete the ringtones supplied with the phone. Files dragged to the interface initially show up with a little gray sync icon that matches the sync button at the bottom of the window. The sync button only lights up when you've made changes to the list. Clicking on any ringtone will give you the options to play it or delete it. The total space available on the iPhone, as well as how much space will be taken by changes you've made (additions and subtractions), are listed near the sync button.
The sync process is fast, and the iPhone treats it just as if iTunes were syncing. You can run iToner while iTunes is running, though I do have my iTunes configured not to sync automatically, and not to sync ringtones at all.
The advantages of iToner over iTunes are obvious: the 36 ringtones I have so far would have cost me $1.98 plus tax for each song I hadn't bought from the iTunes Music Store (28 of them), and another $.99 for each song I had already bought (eight of them), for $64.36 plus tax. That's assuming that all 36 songs are even available as ringtones, which is improbable in the extreme. iToner costs $15 once, and just works.
Less certain are the advantages of iToner over manual hacks. While Apple doesn't seem to be too riled about people writing native applications for the iPhone, they acted quickly to close the free ringtones hole, either because of pressure from the labels or because a source of revenue for Apple themselves is at risk. iToner was unaffected by the release of iTunes 7.4.1, but the manual hacks all quit working. Another workaround has since been found, and the next release could easily break iToner but not the manual process.
I have confidence that Ambrosia will be able to keep up with Apple easily, but each reader will have to decide whether the ease of using iToner is enough to counter the risk that Apple will manage to shut Ambrosia out completely in the future.
The Bottom Line
Ambrosia's iToner is perfect for people who want custom ringtones on their iPhone cheap and easy. If you're willing to do some hacking, you can save the $15 (at least for now). If you're willing to live with Apple's limited selection and comparatively high price, you can stick with iTunes. As for me, I'd rather spend my time picking the best samples, not renaming file extensions and searching the web for the latest workarounds, so I'll stick with iToner.Powered by Sidelines