How to create an iPhone ringtone in 2 minutes

I used to have a dumb phone. It was one of those LG deals with a slide-out keyboard that made it okay for texting. I was super-excited to finally get an iPhone and jump into the 20th Century with everyone else, but found it more difficult to get custom ringtones and sounds on my iPhone than it was to get them on my dumb phone. They don’t make it easy, and there’s a dozen or more apps you can download that supposedly make it easier but all of them have some kind of limitation (your sound is too long/too short/too big/too small, etc). Here’s how to do it with absolutely no limitations.

First, get your sound. Oh my god, I know, right? You actually need to have the sound file. What is this, like 1997? I like having sound effects from Super Mario Brothers as my notification sounds, and you can download those from The Mushroom Kingdom in WAV format, which works fine for what we want.

Next, you need an audio encoder/decoder that will create .m4a files. I use XLD for Mac. It’s free and it can create high quality sound files if you want to rip music from CDs with it later (it’s the closest thing to EAC — which is the best ripper/encoder for Windows — that there is for OSX). The key here is that you want to encode your files from whatever format they’re in now (in my case WAV format) to Apple’s lossless AAC encoding (M4A). In XLD this can be set up in the preferences:

Preferences

Then all you need to do is open the file/files from the File menu or with ⌘+O and it will create .m4a copies of your originals.

Now here’s the super-secret trick that no one talks about!!!

.m4r files — which are iPhone ringtone files — are just renamed .m4a files. So once you have the .m4a files, just change the file extension to .m4r and you’ve got ringtones. (You might need to set your preferences to show file extensions if they aren’t displaying.)

Now because it’s Apple and everything you interact with has to go through iTunes, you can’t just drop the new ringtones onto your phone. You need to add them to your iTunes library and set your iTunes preferences to automatically sync ringtones.

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These will likely be small files, so they should only take a few seconds to sync and then you have your new sounds to use on your phone.

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Not too hard, right?

Take action for change…with your mobile carrier

This is guest post by Chris Reynolds, one half of the design team at Arcane Palette Creative Design. If you’d like to guest post on 10 Times One, click here.

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About a week ago, I got an interesting piece of snail mail.  It came from
CREDO Mobile — a name that didn’t ring any bells at the time — but it didn’t start off like your average “switch to us” cell phone pitch.  Instead it began by talking about all the positive change that has been accomplished in the past year: initiatives to help combat global warming, improved health care, marriage equality in Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, the Lily Ledbetter Act — which ensures that victims of pay discrimination can go to court for justice…

What is this?  Is this a political campaign or a mobile provider?  What’s their angle?

Here’s the bit of important information I was missing: CREDO.  CREDO Action is an activist organization much like Organizing for America (what the Obama Presidential campaign evolved into after the election), Change.org and MoveOn.org — which is to say, they have a bunch of causes and you can help out by signing a petition or donating money.  It was through my involvement in one (or all) of these organizations that I became a member (by signing a petition) of CREDO Action, mostly to my unawares.

Okay, so what does that have to do with cell phones, then?

Well, did you know that AT&T made campaign contributions to someone who called global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” and Verizon contributed to the Republican Senator of Louisiana who urged President Obama to expand offshore drilling after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

Did you know that AT&T gave the maximum allowable contribution to GW in both the 2000 and the 2004 elections?  And AT&T has also been a repeat contributor to the Oklahoma Senator who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and advocates the death penalty to doctors who perform abortions.  Did you know Verizon has been a steady contributor to the group of centrist Democrats who helped derail the public option in the final healthcare bill?

As a member of all the above petition-signing groups and being an AT&T customer, out of contract for over a year, and just hanging on for lack of anything better to switch to, it’s hard to read where AT&T’s values lie and not be tempted to jump ship rtfn.  I’m sure they’ve made other contributions to other politicians with not so spotty records, but, in the end, is it worth it?  But woah there, space cowboy — how much do the plans cost?

My current plan with AT&T is a basic, 2-line family plan, 550 anytime minutes, free nights and weekends and in-network mobile-to-mobile.  We don’t even touch those minutes, though, because we actually talk on the phone so little outside of those times that our rollover minutes effectively amount to infinity (although rollover is something we got in the last year or two, the 550 shared minutes was never a problem for us even before we had rollover since the majority of calls we were making were to each other).  Our monthly bill averages out to about $120/month — $50 per line plus taxes.  Compare that to the 550 shared plan from CREDO: all of that (minus rollover) for $59.99. I must be reading that wrong, I thought.  It can’t possibly be $59.99 for both lines.  Even if it was though, that would end up being just about as much as what we’re paying for AT&T anyway with better values.

So I contacted CREDO Mobile and asked about the $59.99 family plan.  I looked all over the site and, try as I might to find some kind of loophole or fine print that said $59.99 was per line, I failed.  So I asked them.  Two days later I received a personalized email (not an email from a robot or a script monkey in India) that specifically addressed all my questions and concerns.  Effing brilliant! I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

So now I’m waiting for two phones, an LG Rumor 2 and a Sanyo 3810.

How does this action group become a mobile provider?  Obviously they’re targeting people just like me: educated, active in news and politics, concerned about strong issues, they’ve got a huge network of people (with names, addresses and email addresses) from everyone who’s ever signed a petition (a rather clever way of culling a contact list).  Now they’ve got a list, they’ve got an idea to fight against the big mobile conglomerates with right wing leanings, but they need to jump into an already-crowded market with no cell phone towers of their own.  They solve the problem by using Sprint/Nextel’s network.  I looked up Sprint/Nextel for coverage in my area: I got a combination of “Nextel is the best provider in this area” and “Sprint is the worst provider in this area”  (Nextel was purchased by Sprint in 2005), so this puts them right about the middle with everyone else if you average it out.  As far as tech goes, Sprint/Nextel is the first nationwide 4G network, and CREDO Mobile offers Blackberrys and Android smartphones (The HTC Hero 2 is coming soon).  Their plans are all pretty cheap — at least if you go by minutes.  It gets pricier for  unlimited plans, but even if we added almost 1,000 more minutes to our family plan, we’d still be paying less than we are now with AT&T.  Their individual plans are similar — dirt cheap if you go for the least amount of minutes, more as you add more minutes, data or texting.  But the point is, they’re competitive, and, if you’re an activist for any of the causes that CREDO Action supports, why would you get a cell phone plan with anyone else?

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Chris Reynolds is one half of the design team at Arcane Palette Creative Design. He writes in his personal blog, jazzsequence, on subjects like music, technology and social media and shares links, videos, and posts various personal music and writing projects. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Google Voice: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

google voice is one of the latest in beta systems and software and may be the harbinger of goog’s plan to take over your phone.  the skinny is that google voice is sort of a layer on top of your normal phone service.  it’s a free system that offers voice mail (that transcribes your voice messages to text), free text messaging, and a long-distance plan (though i haven’t compared this to what my current rate is with at&t since i’ve got so much rollover i probably won’t be paying for a phone call until my contract expires).  all this with notifications that can get sent to your inbox when you have a message or text, being able to sync multiple phone numbers to a single google voice number (so, for example, all the phones in your family plan could ring at one google voice number — you know, like in the olden days when people had multiple telephones that had actual wires preventing the phones from leaving a 5 foot area, and all the phones in the house rang at the same time when someone called), and add to that the ability to pick our phone number (with a search function that lets you come up with a witty 3-7 character combination which you can use (or not) to remember your phone number (or give it to others).  as an example, my phone number is 987-0BSG).  there’s also some other added bonuses that i’ll get to…

the good

there’s a few things that voice does that are completely awesome.  even when the voice recognition software flubs some words (and admittedly, they censor the four-letter variety), it’s still nice to  read your message when you don’t want to call into your voice mail.  just being able to check your messages in a browser without picking up the phone at all is pretty awesome, and, i imagine, would be especially useful for someone working in an office that doesn’t allow personal calls.

also, though i haven’t played with it myself, the ability to add multiple phone numbers to your google voice number is pretty sweet.  you can have your business and personal called forwarded to the same phone, multiple family members getting ringed at the same time (as in the aforementioned family plan option) or both your cell and your landline go to your google phone number, so you can be sure to get the call whether your out or not, and not cause the person trying to get in touch with you the hassle of having to call your cell if your land line gets an RNA (that’s telco-speak for “ring, no answer”).

also bonus is the ability to create groups and import contacts and then customize the greeting they get when they hit your voice mail depending on what group they are in.  you can have everyone in your contacts get one message and everyone else another message.  or your friends and family get one message while your clients and work acquaintances get a more professional greeting.  i keep meaning to set this one up.

free texting is cool also, as is the ability to send a text message from your computer.  typing on a real keyboard is a lot easier than using a numpad or qwerty keyboard.  now, with this, certain restrictions apply — such as a text messaging plan with your provider.  because while you sending texts through google voice is free, that doesn’t mean that incoming texts are also free — at least, not if you don’t have free text messaging as part of your carrier plan.  because, while i can tell google voice not to text me when i get a voice message (see this revisited later), i can’t tell it to not text me when i get a text message (and why would i? seems kind of pointless, really).

also, with the google chrome extension for voice, when i highlight a telephone number on the screen, it bring up a little box that allows me to call that number through google voice.

since google voice is an added layer on top of your existing service, you can make a call through google voice one of 3 ways.  1 — you can use the chrome extension (if there isn’t a firefox equivalent, i’d be surprised).  in this case you select the phone you want it to ring (in my case, just my cell phone), and then google voice will connect your call like an old-fashioned operator, calling you and the party you are trying to connect to automatically.  2 — you can do the same operation through the google voice page.  again, just tell it what number you want to call and they call you and connect you to where you’re trying to go.  3 — you can call google voice (your own number) log in with your pin, and then select the option from the voice prompt to make a call.  the in-browser support with the chrome extension is really the only one that’s not clunky as all hell.

you can also use google voice’s built-in call screening system, forcing all callers who aren’t in your contact list to announce who they are and you have the choice to accept or deny the call.  if you deny the call, they get routed to voice mail.  not the most personable situation, but i suppose it would work well for people who get slammed by telemarketers (i solve this problem by just not answering calls from numbers i don’t recognize).

the bad

so, what should be pretty obvious at this point is that the way this would work 100xs better is if there was no added layer — google voice 100% integrated into your phone as your actual provider rather than piggybacking on top of what you’ve already got.  as it stands, the system feels a little jury-rigged, especially with the caller id situation (outgoing calls from your phone? your existing phone number on caller id.  outgoing calls from the google voice system?  your voice phone number.  text messaging?  either or, depending on a setting you can modify.  incoming caller ids — from what i’ve seen — just come from Google Voice.  text messages come from Google Voice but have the benefit of showing the texter’s name at the beginning of the message (or, presumably, their phone number if they aren’t in your contacts — i haven’t gotten a text from someone not in my contacts)).

the whole thing just begs to have google take over every damn thing, and you know that has to be on their minds as well.

also: i mentioned before that you can have voice text you when you get a voice message.  that’s the thing — that’s the only notification you get on your phone.  a text message.  other than the missed call and an assumption (which is what i’m going off of these days).  for those of us who pay per text message and don’t want to rack up $0.10 just for a note saying you got voicemail, you’ll have to actually use your brain as opposed to having a little icon on your phone that tells you you have a message waiting.

i imagine someone with a smartphone and a google voice app would probably experience something a lot smoother.  a blackberry or an iphone or an android or nexus one phone probably has a voice interface integrated (and if not, i’m sure it’s on the way) so the experience can be a lot more sophisticated and seamless.  the system lends itself well to data plans because of the text messaging thing (i know i’m in the dark ages on that one), the email notifications and the fact that google voice is a web-based application.  while it’s not smartphone-exclusive, it’s pretty close; us that use flip phones with no data plan are kind of in the lurch.

the ugly

let me say one thing about the google voice extension for chrome: just because some text i highlighted might have some numerical characters in it, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S A PHONE NUMBER I WANT TO CALL.  seriously, this is one of the most obnoxious things i’ve seen.  i’ve had pretty much anything with more than 6 digits (including long alphanumeric strings like serial numbers, API keys, or other registration-type keys) bring a google voice pop-up.  the idea is similar to that of the skype plugin for firefox, where every phone number becomes a way you can call someone straight from the web page, but the chrome extension for voice is much less discriminating in what it decides a phone number qualifies as.  that said, it is pretty handy when it actually is a phone number i do want to call, but obnoxious the 99 other times in 100 that i don’t and it’s not.

also ugly?  picking your phone number.  because you can keep your current number (with a more limited feature set that does not include the voice-to-text voicemail inbox), or you can pick a number; you cannot (at the time of this writing) say “give me a number.”  if you want a new number,  you are forced to pick one.  think 987-0BSG is kind of lame?  you try thinking of something more interesting — but, before you start, i’ll tell you that geek, g33k, leet, l33t, and l337 are already taken.  and, unfortunately, your phone number can’t be STARBUCK.  nor was anything like DESIGN, ARCANE, PALETTE, or anything else available.  still think you can do better than BSG?  9870 isn’t looking so bad anymore, is it?  the fact that you can’t give up and say “just give me a random number” is ridiculous.  i get that the numbers that are available are limited and that new area codes are being created all the time to accommodate all the new phone numbers (to which google voice is only adding to the problem), but come on, just pick a damn number for me, okay?

when you call your number to check for messages, you don’t get an alert that says “you have no new messages.”  the system only tells you when you have new messages, and, as far as i could tell through it’s badly designed prompts, you can’t listen to old messages, either.  this means that if someone called you, you read the badly translated text, and called in to hear the recording, you would a) not know there was a message waiting and b) good luck finding the thing at all.  sure you can stream the recording from the web app, but, again, those of us not on smartphones might find that inconvenient.  if you do have an unread message you get the “you have one new message” prompt, so why not the standard “you have no new messages”?  i mean, seriously, wtf?

we know where this is going

there’s a pretty obvious conclusion to google voice.  like everything else, it’s still in beta, and fairly early beta based on the limited invites and functionality.  even so, with the development going into the chrome os, the new nexus one and google’s overall emergence into the mobile market with android, it’s pretty obvious where this is going — google is going to jump into the mobile market.  how that’s going to work, i have no idea.  right now, it’s obvious they’re offering up google voice as another free thing to join the ranks of all their other free things, but if they become a carrier, things will no longer be free.  what that means, exactly, i have no idea.  will a google voice carrier be a voice-over-IP-based system?  will they lease access from a larger carrier, say,  t-mobile or verizon?  and if so, how will that affect the consumer costs, since it’s obvious that a lot of the google appeal is in their “free shit is cool” factor (which may go completely out the door when chrome os-powered devices start hitting the market next year)?

and what about integration?  when does gtalk, wave, google apps, and google voice merge into an all-in-one teleconferencing/communications platform that can be marketed to individuals, small businesses, and large corporations?  because you know that has to be coming as well, but, as yet, nothing has been released yet that adequately integrates any of these standalone apps, let alone all of them.  it’s what everyone wants, and it will be the one thing that will add the most value to all of their products as pieces of a whole, and as part of a suite of applications.  when google finally does merge and natively integrate all of their flagship products, they will be in the best possible position to take on the corporate market.  which is exactly where they want to be.

don’t be evil my pale buttocks.