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iPhone 4.2 how-to: Setting custom SMS alert tones


One of the less-heralded new features in iOS 4.2.1 for the iPhone is the addition of a slew of new SMS message tones, along with the ability to assign text tones to particular contacts. The expansion of choice is welcome, and I hate to look gift text tones in the mouth, but there are still some frustrations in the mix.

The biggest issue is that as far as we can tell, 3GS owners aren't getting the new ringtones at all; only iPhone 4 users are seeing them. It's not clear yet if this is permanent or temporary.

Even if you have the new tones, what you see is what you get; you still can't add your own custom SMS tones without jailbreaking. For another thing, as Chris Rawson pointed out last week, these new SMS alerts are mostly freakishly long -- who has time to wait for 10 seconds of music whenever they get a text? It is a puzzlement.

Update: Reader Peter Park, a database admin by trade, wrote in to say how much he appreciates the longer alert tones -- when you're depending on an SMS message to wake you up in the middle of the night when a server is offline, you want to make sure you hear it. Point taken!

You may find one of the new SMS tones to your liking; for my money, most of them sound like they might have been recorded between takes on the Looney Tunes scoring stage, although "Anticipate" is a dead ringer for the Stair Dismount music sting. The only one that I feel like I might be able to stick with for a while is "Noir," which is short enough not to drive me bonkers.

Whether you stick with the classic alerts or dip into the new and "improved" ones, you can still have some fun assigning specific tones to particular people -- very handy if you want to make sure that your spouse or your boss always get your attention in a hurry. Read on for the simple steps needed to set this up.

You can set your SMS preference globally in the Settings app, under Sounds. By default, all incoming texts will alert you with this sound, so choose carefully.

To assign an alert sound to a particular contact, tap the contact in your Contacts app and then click the Edit button at the upper right corner of the screen.

Scroll down in the contact detail until you see the "text tone" field -- it's right underneath the ringtone field. Tap the text tone field to bring up the scrolling list of available sounds.

Tap the sound you want for this contact, and click Save. That's it!

You can also use the Favorites screen in the Phone app to quickly get to the contact detail/edit screens for your most-called contacts.

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