Counterclockwise: Nokia Tune, iPhone Marimba and the popularity of ringtones

Peter, 28 May 2017

A default ringtone is a dead giveaway of what kind of phone you have - even if it’s out of sight, in your pocket or backpack. Some tones have become as recognizable as hit songs, people certainly hear them often enough.

One of the most famous ringtones is the Nokia Tune aka “Grande Valse”. Based on 1902’s composition for solo guitar by Francisco Tarrega, the tune has seen many updates and changes and is solidly lodged in our minds.

But the first time Nokia used the Grande Valse was not as a ringtone, instead it used it in a 1992 ad for the Nokia 1011, the company’s first GSM phone. The first Nokia with that ringtone was the 2110, a simple monophonic version of the melody. The 3510 expanded the sound stage with polyphonic audio (a MIDI), until eventually MP3 took over. The Nokia Tune has been performed on piano, guitar, bells, it has been remixed many times too.

Side trivia: Nokia used Morse code for some of its SMS notifications. The default was just M, there was another sound that spelled out “SMS” too.



Early phones were too simple, you could only choose from the preloaded sounds. The first phone with custom sounds was sold by Japanese carrier au in 1996, it allowed users to manually compose a melody. Later, in 1998, the first downloadable ringtone was carried over SMS on Finland’s Radiolinja carrier.

When the original iPhone was unveiled, people were enthralled by its ringtone known as “Marimba”. Apple’s phone had a total of 25 sounds pre-loaded and adding new sounds was not possible. But people didn’t want to put sounds in, they wanted to take Marimba out and use it on other phones - such was the impact it had.

iPhone's Marimba ringtone

A little later in 2007, Apple achieved Steve Jobs’ original intent - to let people create custom ringtones from iTunes songs. Still, Marimba was often heard from TV screens and in movie theaters as Apple furnished on-screen characters with an iPhone (a clever bit of marketing).

Samsung wanted its own recognizable tune and that became Over the Horizon. Where the Nokia Tune and Marimba could be performed by one person, Over the Horizon was performed by a band. For the Galaxy S6, the company expanded that to a 40-piece orchestra.

Samsung isn’t alone in this, LG enlisted the Vienna Boys’ Choir to record “Life is Good”, a ringtone for the LG G5. There are other examples too. It’s no surprise phone makers would turn to orchestras and choirs - the earliest phone ringtones were typically pieces of classical music.


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Reader comments

  • Anonymous

T-mobile Jingle rules!!!

  • AnonD-632062

Nice Article. Nokia: Grande Valse (Super iconic tune. Boot-up animation is a clip of the tune along with famous "Connecting People" hands. The new Nokia 6 has the tune, but drops the graphics) Samsung: Over The Horizon (another iconic tune...

Well obviously, a phone that costs more than some people's annual salary will have a nice ringtone

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