Having music on your phone is great, but after spending $1 or so to download a song online, why pay nearly $2 for a ring tone that's only part of the song?
It's a good question, to which there is a cheaper answer: Make your own ring tone, using clips of your favorite songs in your personal music library downloaded directly to your cell phone.
It's almost too easy to make your own ring tone -- and, eventually, that could leave your wireless carrier worried about the money it makes by selling ring tones over the phone.
There are two ways music lovers can download their favorite tunes to their phones. The first involves connecting the computer to the phone via a USB cord -- but for that you need an advanced phone, such as the Palm Treo.
The other way involves third-party software that sends ring tones over the air, via text message.
Xingtone and Ringtone Media Studio -- software suites sold online or in retail stores for just under $20 -- are among those that allow you to tap into your music library to make an unlimited number of ring tones.
"Why should you have to pay your carrier for a 15-second clip of a song you already own?" asked Richard Miles, vice president of sales and marketing for Xingtone Inc., the Los Angeles company that boasts hundreds of thousands of customers.
Aside from cost, the other benefit of the software is the customization of the ring tone. The software acts like an editing system, enabling users to digitally remaster sounds and songs. Caches of music stored on CDs and MP3 files are potential ring-tone material. It's also possible to record your voice or someone else's and use that audio clip as a ring tone.
And even if your favorite song is in your wireless carrier's catalogue, the software allows you to pick which clip of the song you want on your phone -- maybe the opening seconds, the guitar solo halfway through or a particular rap segment at the end.
Xingtone works on about 150 makes and models of phones and only on those that are capable of playing real music, not the polyphonic beeping facsimiles of music. The phones must also have basic text-messaging capabilities and Internet access to retrieve the ring-tone file.
Once installed on the computer -- Xingtone offers versions for PCs and Macs -- the software prompts users for a phone number, cellular carrier and phone model.
The software allows users to select the exact part of the song or recording to download onto the phone, then sends the snippet to the Internet and sends a text message with the Web address of that snippet to the user.
Access that Web address over the phone's Internet connection, and suddenly, the clip is on the phone, ready to be played for incoming calls.
One big caveat: Although Xingtone works on most phones, it's not compatible with phones running on the Verizon Wireless network, though newer phones are expected to be compatible by the end of the year, Miles said.
The tunes can be programmed to ring for different callers, so Miles, for example, keeps about 20 ring tones on his phone.
Ringtone Media Studio, made by Avanquest, is similar to Xingtone except that it also allows for the transfer of digital photos and videos to phones.
The company launched its program in the United States in August and has sold thousands of copies, said David Wright, executive vice president of Avanquest.
Unlike Xingtone, Ringtone Media Studio transfers data to the cell phone using either a wireless Bluetooth or infrared connection or a USB or other cord that connects the phone to the computer. The company is developing a way to transmit the tunes over the air.
Ringtone Media Studio only works on Windows computers. If the phone cannot play real music, the software will convert the sounds to a ring that sounds like polyphonic beeps.
"We don't ask any technical questions of the user," Wright said. "It's very, very simple."
And having a customized ring tone has proved to be handy -- especially in a crowded place such as the airport.
"When my phone rings, I know it's mine," he said.