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Finding the perfect ring for a cell phone

Tired of beeps and chirps? Makers of cell phone are starting to add ""ring melodies" to their products, which can play downloadable songs.

By CATHERINE GREENMAN, New York Times News Service

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2000


phone artIf you are bold enough to select what is known in the cell phone business as a "ring melody" -- the opening notes of Fur Elise or Pachelbel's Canon in D Major, for instance -- brace yourself for a little snickering from fellow commuters or neighbors in Starbucks.

But at least that's better than the contemptuous glares that usually greet a ringing cell phone in a public place. And it will help avoid the sometimes comic scene of people fumbling through their jackets and bags thinking the ringing phone is their own.

David Drucker, a writer in Los Angeles, said his Ericcson phone was programmed to play the theme from The Sting when it rang. "I came to despise a normal ring," he said. "All of those shrill rings made me feel like I was on an electronic leash. The song kind of makes me laugh."

Most wireless-phone manufacturers incorporate five to 30 different choices of ring tones and melodies into each model. But with the release of new wireless phones with Internet connectivity, consumers will have more ring choices in the coming months.

Nokia and Samsung are among manufacturers designing phones that will let users log onto Web sites set up by the companies for composing and downloading ring melodies.

The downloading features are being built into the handsets, but they will work only after the software is upgraded for cell-phone networks. Such changes are expected to be in place before the end of the year.

"We're very excited about the possibility of downloadable ring melodies," said Mike Courtney, messaging manager for Nokia America's new-business development. "It's something that all the manufacturers have been preparing for."

Samsung will offer downloadable ring features on new phones that use the Wireless Application Protocol, a new standard for wireless communications. The company is setting up a site to make a variety of tunes available, said Muzibul Kahn, a spokesman for Samsung. Once the melodies are downloaded, Kahn says, users also will be able to adjust the bass and treble to their liking.

"We tried to build the phone like a stereo equalizer," he said. "We think there's a group of people, mostly the younger generation, who will think it's a cool feature. It's another way to differentiate themselves."

Rick Goetter, a spokesman for Kyocera Wireless Corp., which manufactures Qualcomm phones, said it would introduce downloadable ring features only if enough customers asked for the service. Qualcomm plans to release two wireless Internet phones, the QCP 2035 and QCP 3035, this year.

In the meantime, the choice between blending in and differentiating oneself from the rest of the wireless pack has become so excruciating that many people opt out of the decision and put their phones on vibrate mode.

"I'm totally embarrassed by my ring," said Jay Mandel, a literary agent in New York who uses a Sprint PCS Touchpoint phone. "I love the idea of not having anyone know when my phone is ringing. I'll look at the Caller ID under the table and decide what to do, without interrupting whomever I'm with."

Mandel said he had noticed that men had an unfair advantage when it came to using the vibration feature. "Women have handbags and can't tell when it goes off if they keep their phones in there," he said.

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