It started, as so many things do, with SoundJam.
In 1998, a trio of developers released the Mac-friendly MP3 player -- the WinAmp-style software that would evolve into iTunes. iTunes would lead to the iPhone, which would lead to the text message-on-the-iPhone, which would lead to the iPhone's text message alert -- the sound that is the default alert built into every iPhone that's been manufactured. The sound that I, and maybe you, and millions of people around the world, rely on to know when we've been communicated with -- the sound that is the aural entryway to friends and families and flirtations. Kelly Jacklin, an audio/visual producer, was the original architect of that sound. Apple's ubiquitous Tri-Tone noise, Jacklin explains -- like so many aspects of early computing -- came from the educated whims of educated geeks.
In mid-1999, SoundJam's co-developer, Jeff Robbin, approached Jacklin to get his friend's help for a particular aspect of SoundJam. The software let users burn CDs into digital files; Robbin was looking for an alert that would let the user know when the burning had been completed -- a "you've got mail" for the sound-copying crowd. And he was hoping his friend could help him out. As Jacklin recalls: "Since I'm a hobbyist musician, and had a recording setup, I told him I'd tinker around and see if I could some up with something."
To do that tinkering, Jacklin used a Mac PowerPC tower with MIDI -- MIDI that was, in turn, outfitted with Yamaha XG extensions. Jacklin also used, he notes, "this wacky freeware sequencer app called MIDIGraphy." From there, he proceeded to geek out. Jacklin decided, for simplicity's sake, on a three-note (and maybe a four-note) sequence for the alert. "I was looking," he recalls, "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." (Adding to the decision for simplicity was the fact that Jacklin "didn't have much time to devote to being creative, so no fancy timing here, just sequenced notes.")