Showdown: iPhone Ringtone Maker vs. RingtoneStudio

iTunes’ support for custom ringtones continues to evolve. For creating ringtones from iTunes on your Mac, the evolutionary state has reached extinction. 

At first, you could create ringtones for $0.99 from select iTunes-purchased songs in your Mac’s iTunes Library. With iTunes 9 and iOS 3.1, Apple shifted gears: the preferred way to create ringtones was now via an option in the iTunes Store app on your iPhone (as I covered in a prior column). These cost $1.29 a pop and, unlike on your Mac, there was no ability to select which 30 second clip of a song you wanted for your ringtone.

While iTunes 9 retained a limited ability to create ringtones on your Mac, Apple no longer pushed this approach (perhaps because, after Apple removed DRM protection, it no longer charged for creating ringtones via this original method).

With iTunes 10, Apple has entirely dropped support for ringtone creation on the Mac. Given the trend established in iTunes 9, this was not much of a surprise.

Not to fret. If you want to create ringtones on your Mac, there continues to be a wide variety of alternatives — ranging from Apple’s own GarageBand to several third-party Mac utilities (including Ambrosia’s iToner and my longstanding personal favorite, PocketMac’s RingtoneStudio).

Ringtone Maker Pro. More recent arrivals are iPhone apps that compete with the iTunes Store app, allowing you to create ringtones directly on the iPhone — at no cost. The most popular of these apps is Ringtone Maker Pro (and its free sibling Ringtone Maker).

Ringtone Maker Pro delivers on its essential promise: in just a couple of minutes, I was able to select a song from my iPhone’s iTunes collection and convert it to a finished and installed ringtone.

In theory, a big advantage of an app like Ringtone Maker is that you can go from soup-to-nuts entirely on the iPhone, without any need for an intervening connection to a Mac. That’s how the iTunes Store app works. Unfortunately, that is not at all how Ringtone Maker works. Quite the opposite. In fact, the process is so convoluted that I wound up feeling that I would be better off using a Mac utility such as RingtoneStudio instead. 

The hassle with Ringtone Maker begins after you create your ringtone. Your next step is to connect your iPhone to iTunes on your Mac and navigate to the File Sharing section at the bottom of the iPhone’s Apps tab. From here, click the RMakerPro app listing and drag the desired ringtone file to your Mac’s Desktop. Next, drag the ringtone file from the Desktop to the Ringtones section of your Library back in iTunes. You can now trash the file on your Desktop. Finally, go to Ringtones tab for your connected iPhone and enable the checkmark for the newly added tone. You are now ready to sync your iPhone, which will at last transfer the ringtone back to the iPhone, where you can select it from the Sounds > Ringtone section in Settings.

To be fair, there’s not much Ringtone Maker’s developers can do about any of this. As I understand it, Apple’s iOS developers license prohibits any app from sending a ringtone directly to the iPhone’s Ringtone section. The API is off-limits to third-parties.

Ringtone Studio. In contrast, Ringtone Studio, by starting on a Mac, winds up requiring fewer steps. After clicking to create your selected ringtone, the song clip is automatically installed in the Ringtones section of your iTunes Library. Just sync to your iPhone and you’re done. As a bonus, with Ringtone Studio, you have your entire Music Library at your disposal (as well as any media on your Mac that is not in iTunes). With the Ringtone Maker app, you are limited to the songs currently on your iPhone. The one downside of Ringtone Studio is cost. It will set you back $19.95, as opposed to the current $0.99 for Ringtone Maker Pro.

Bottom line. If the extra steps of Ringtone Maker don’t bother you, go ahead and buy it. You won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, as your Mac is going to get involved in either case, I’d go for the lesser hassle and greater versatility of Ringtone Studio.