If you’ve switched from Android to iPhone, you may have tried setting a custom ringtone. Only to find out that it’s not possible unless you’re prepared to follow a convoluted workaround that often requires a computer, iTunes, and an audio editing app. For comparison, setting a custom ringtone on Android is as simple as navigating to settings and selecting an MP3 file. So why doesn’t Apple simplify the process on iPhone? Well, the short answer is greed. Apple has been in the business of selling ringtones since the original iPhone in 2007. Back then, the ringtone market was a one-billion-dollar-a-year industry. With 30-second ringtones being priced higher than ninety-nine cents, full-length songs.
T-Mobile and Sprint sold ringtones for $2.50 each, while Verizon charged $3. Even more shocking is customers didn’t own the ringtones. They would disappear after 90 days to one year, then need to be repurchased. Not to mention ringtones couldn’t be adjusted or looped in any way. So in 2007, Apple disrupted the ringtone industry by introducing a completely new sales model. For iPhone users to set a ringtone, they’d first have to purchase the full-length song from iTunes, which was ninety-nine cents. Then, they’d have to pay another ninety-nine cents to convert the song to a 30-second ringtone. Bringing the total cost of one custom ringtone to one dollar and ninety-eight cents.
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That may sound insane today, but it was a big improvement at the time. Not only were customers paying less than two dollars for a ringtone, but the full-length song was included in the price, they could adjust the ringtone’s start and end points, and the ringtone never disappeared. But the music industry has changed in the last fifteen years. Streaming is more popular than buying, and customers don’t value ringtones like they used to. But instead of making custom ringtones free, Apple employed a new strategy. If you try changing your ringtone in settings, you’ll find this ‘Tone Store’ button at the top of the page. Tapping it takes you to the iTunes Music Store.
Where you can browse and buy ringtones for $1.29 each. After purchasing, it automatically appears at the top of your ringtone list in settings. It’s no accident that Apple makes it seemingly impossible to set custom ringtones for free while providing users a direct link to their store right from settings. And if you think that may be a coincidence, just look at this comment from the official Apple Support YouTube channel. In a video titled, “How to set custom vibrations on your iPhone,” a viewer asked, “but how to set a custom ringtone on my iPhone?” To which Apple responded, “Here’s an article that you can use to change ringtones…” and in that article, it explicitly instructs the reader to “Buy ringtones from the iTunes Store.”
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Without mentioning anything about creating custom ringtones for free, which is technically possible. That’s why there are countless videos on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of views explaining the process. There’s still demand for custom ringtones, and Apple’s making it as hard as possible to create them for free to maximize profit.