If you aren't afraid of a little tinkering, you can get that your ringtone without shelling out the extra bucks.
Users have to pay Apple $1 for a song, plus an extra $1 to convert that song into a ringtone. Of course, hackers immediately set out to find a way to generate iPhone ringtones for free. In a classic game of cat and mouse, Apple has spent the last few days trying to block iPhone owners from installing free ringtones on their devices -- only to watch hackers come up with workarounds just hours after each patch is released.
Apple has continued to update its iTunes software (which syncs with the iPhone to add ringtones) to block the specific loopholes uncovered by the hackers. In fact, iTunes was updated almost immediately after the first loophole was uncovered Friday.
Despite Apple's best efforts, the chase continues. The most-popular desktop applications for installing custom ringtones were updated this weekend, in one case only hours after Apple updated its software to block them.
Mac users can rely on applications like iToner ($15 from Ambrosia Software), which is a full-featured ringtone manager for the iPhone. Windows users can get similar functionality from iPhoneRingtoneMaker ($15 from Efiko Software).
These options feature drag-and-drop ringtone management, including the ability to use just about any sound file and the option to set specific songs to play when specific people call. The latest iTunes update appears to have crippled iPhoneRingtoneMaker for some users, but the developers at Efiko are working on the problem. IToner is currently up to date.
Granted, the methods described below may very well be rendered obsolete the next time Apple updates iTunes or the iPhone's firmware.
So, to keep the instructions up to date, we've also posted them in Wired's How To Wiki. You can follow along there and help keep the instructions detailed and current as the Whack-A-Mole game continues.
The simplest DIY method involves just using iTunes and some free software. Apple quickly disabled this ultrasimple free ringtone method with the release of iTunes 7.4.1, but if you haven't yet upgraded to 7.4.1, this method will work.
Shortly after the release of iTunes 7.4 -- which came out last Wednesday, the day ringtones were announced -- users noticed that the main difference between ringtones and regular audio files were their file extensions. Regular AAC files have the file extension .m4a, while ringtones use the file extension .m4r.
ITunes 7.4 will automatically create a new folder for storing ringtones in your music library the first time you open a .m4r file, provided you have the "Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized" option checked. This folder is where you'll want to put your ringtone files, but first you'll need to edit the song down to a suitable size. The size of an allowed ringtone on the iPhone tops out at around 3 megabytes.
For Mac users, there are several ways to whittle down your tracks. You could use Apple's Quicktime Pro or Garageband if you have them. You can also edit MP3s in the free Audion 3, which features a nice waveform editing tool. Windows users can edit audio files with the free Audacity. Pick the 20 to 30 seconds you want to use as your ringtone, and save the file as an MP3.
Next, add the shortened file to your iTunes library, then right-click on it in iTunes and choose "Convert to AAC." The clip will need to be an AAC file in order to be used as a ringtone. Finally, change the file extension to .m4r, and move the AAC to the "Ringtones" folder in your music library.
Since both Windows and Mac OS X like to hide file extensions, the renaming part can be tricky. Make sure you aren't just appending a file extension to the hidden one. On a Mac, choose "Get Info" in the Finder and make sure "Hide extension" is unchecked. In Windows, make sure the "Hide extensions for known file types" option in Windows Explorer is turned off.
When you sync your iPhone, you should see the new ringtones displayed in your phone's sound settings.
Even if you have already upgraded to iTunes 7.4.1, all hope is not lost.
First, complete all the steps listed above for version 7.4. Then use this simple trick: Head back into the iTunes music folder and change the extension of your .m4r ringtones back to .m4a. Convoluted, yes, but it does work. For now.
Or, rather than mess around with your file extensions, you can also use applications that automate the process. Rogue Amoeba's MakeiPhoneRingtone and AppleGazette's iRing are both free downloads for the Mac. Create the ringtone clip, and these apps will handle the rest.
There is another method of getting custom ringtones on your iPhone as well, though it requires using the Jailbreak application and a bit of command-line sauce.
Using Jailbreak to unlock your iPhone and installing the SSH application will let you interact with the iPhone's file system just as you would any other external device. You'll be able to install ringtones and much, much more.
The legality of all this futzing is still being debated. Some say using a song you purchased (either on a CD or online) as a ringtone does not constitute fair use and may be grounds for copyright infringement. So, proceed with caution.
And before you go crazy making a dozen ringtones, we can't help but suggest you consider another ring option: the ever-popular vibrate setting. Like a timeless black suit or little black dress, vibrate is classy, demure and doesn't annoy the hell out of everyone within 20 feet of you.