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The Curious Case of the 1.1.2 Ringtones

Apple's 1.1.2 iPhone firmware release brought easy custom ringtones back to life. With 1.1.2 you can once again add end-user ringtones to iTunes and, from there, sync them to your iPhone. Did Apple intentionally thwart third party ringtones with its 1.1.1 firmware or not? Is the 1.1.2 reprieve an oversight or fixing an unintentional obstacle? Opinions vary.

Some say that the 1.1.2 ringtone support shows that Apple messed up in its update version control. They think that the 1.1.2 reprieve is accidental, a simple Apple oversight, and one easily corrected. TUAW alum David Chartier disagrees. He says he's talked to developers who suggest that the 1.1.1 was the anomaly--that Apple had not intentionally countered custom ringtones to force iTunes purchases.

Much as I respect David's proposition, I find it hard to write off 1.1.1 as an unintentional consequence. Ringtone policy changes suggest otherwise. 1.1.1 completely altered the way ringtones worked:

  • Audio files dropped into /Library/Ringtones and /var/root/Library/Ringtones no longer worked.
  • M4A, MP3 and WAV ringtones no longer worked. The files needed to be M4R, with proper metadata.
  • Ringtones added to /var/root/Media/iTunes_Control/Ringtones worked in a limited fashion but only when added laboriously to a custom Ringtones.plist file.
  • You could no longer drop M4R files into your Macintosh or Windows PC's Ringtones folder or the Ringtones part of your iTunes library.

So what does this say about 1.1.2? I think it says that either Apple changed its mind--hard to tell because they don't issue press releases on this kind of decision--or that Apple goofed. 1.1.3 will show us either way. If ringtones go away, or if they stay, we'll have our answer.

Our own Nik Fletcher has a different take. He thinks that Apple intentionally opened the 1.1.2 hole. He feels that it's been left open so that at least Europeans can get some custom ringtones going until the deals with the labels get sorted. A handsets that truly had no custom ringtone stuff would be DOA in Europe. There is, right now, no UK ringtone store or sales in iTunes.

Assuming simple custom ringtones stick around and Apple does not "correct" this issue, the iPhone once again moves closer to the pack. Many cell phones permit third party ringtones, and the iPhone will join their enlightened ranks. If ringtones go away, it's time to think about investing in iToner. When you buy their software, you're not really buying the ability to make custom ringtones, you're purchasing Ambrosia's expertise and their determination to make custom ringtones work with the iPhone so long as its possible. It's an investment in people not technology

Right now, there's simply not enough information out there to predict which way Apple will go. What do you think? Is 1.1.2 the rule or the exception? Let us know in the comments.

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