This Is How The Ubiquitous iPhone Default Text Message Alert Came To Be

Contrary to popular belief, the default text message chime on an iPhone is not the sound Steve Jobs made when he sprung forth fully-formed from his mother’s womb. Sorry to dash your dreams into dust, but really the whole thing was the work of an audio/visual producer who played with a number of options before settling on the now familiar tri-tone that means someone has something to tell you.

How did it all start? The Atlantic traces the ubiquitous tone back to Kelly Jacklin, the architect of the sound recognizable by millions of iPhone users as a indication that hey, you’ve got a message. It’s on your phone, check it out. Or listen below:

In 1999, a co-developer for SoundJam — an MP3 player used on Macs that would later morph into iTunes — and asked Jacklin to help him create an alert tone that would let users know when their digital files had been successfully burned onto a CD.

“Since I’m a hobbyist musician, and had a recording setup, I told him I’d tinker around and see if I could some up with something,” Jacklin said.

He began playing around and essentially, “geeking out” with a sequencer app called MIDIgraphy.

“I was looking,” he recalls, “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.”

He ran through a bunch of marimbas and kalimbas, as well as other instruments, and began sorting through the digital orchestra in search of The One True Alert. There’s a list you can check out here of 29 sound files he considered before settling on the “boo-dah-ling!” noise (as he alls it) we can still hear today.

“I probably spent a couple hours on it, time I was more than happy to give to a friend who was developing a music app.”

Apple ended up buying SoundJam and lo and behold when iTunes hit the market in 2001, that alert noise came along with it. From there, iTunes spawned the iPod, which spaned the iPhone, and the rest is Tri-Tone history.

Marimba! How Apple’s Default Text-Message Alert Was Born [The Atlantic]