Creator reveals history behind iPhone’s iconic ‘Tri-Tone’ text message sound

“Back some time in 1998, a friend I used to work with named Jeff Robbin approached me about a project he and Bill Kincaid were working on, which was called DAS at the time (not sure what that stood for, probably Digital Audio Something-or-other), but would eventually become SoundJam (and then SoundJam MP), and would then eventually become iTunes (once Apple bought it),” Kelly Jacklin explains for Jacklin Studios.

“I was not interested, but told him that I’d be happy to play with the app once they had it working,” Jacklin recounts. “Their development continued, and they added disc burning to the app. At some point, Jeff and I were chatting about his disc burning feature, and he said he needed some way to inform the user that the burn was done. DAS being a sound-making app, he wanted a sound to alert the user, something simple. Since I’m a hobbiest musician, and had a recording setup, I told him I’d tinker around and see if I could some up with something.”

Jacklin writes, “I was looking 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. So I had two tasks: pick an instrument, and pick a sequence of notes. Simple, right? Yeah, says you; everyone’s an armchair musician…”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: iPhone’s Tri-Tone sound:


  1. That’s not a tri-tone. A tri-tone is an augmented fourth or diminished fifth. It’s the interval you hear in a train whistle. (It was also called Diablo en Musica in the middle ages because of its dissonance.)

    This is just three tones in sequence. (Tonic, fifth, and octave.)

    1. If you read the full article, he alludes to the fact that tri-tone isn’t correct… (he originally named it 158-marimba).
      Fun hearing the other options at the end of his piece as well…

  2. As Sum Jung Gal points out, this sound has three pitches, but it’s not a tritone. The three pitches are D, A, and D. A tritone, for a musician at least, would be D, G#, and D.

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