Today, virtually no phone goes on the market without including an audio recorder capable of recording 3 to 4 minutes of your voice, typicalily for use as a dictation device. The next obvious step is to let you assign these voice recordings as your ringtone. You could then record something like: "You've got a call" or even use your dog's barking. The Nokia 3100 and some Siemens phones include that function.
Ring your MP3 music
The future is clearly to using MP3 files (an audio format used to save a song on computers) as your phone's ringtone. But it requires sufficient memory as the average MP3 file weights more than 3 Megabytes. That's the reason why the MP3 ringtone function is mostly seen on PDA phones, these devices that combine a palmtop computer and a cell phone and usually have lots of memory. But with camera phones come the need to add memory to these handsets anyway, which will also motivate manufacturers to include an MP3 ringtone function. Some examples of phones with the MP3 ringtone function include the Sony Ericsson P900 and the Nokia N-Gage and the Motorola V600.
With the introduction of Motorola's new line of trendy cell phones, the C330 series, in 2002, came a new concept: audio mixers, that allow you to mix various preset rythms and sounds to create your own polyphonic ringtone. Now, we're seeing audio mixers in more new phones, such as the Siemens M56. Your good old polyphonic ringtones are also going to evolve. One of the first phones to include the capacity to play polyphonic ringtones, the Sanyo SCP-5000, was only able to play 4 notes at the same time, it had a 4-chord ringtone engine. Quickly, new phones were able to play 16 notes at the same time and now, we're seeing 40-chord polyphonic ringtones in the most recent phones. These channels are used to play various notes with some of the hundreds of music instruments included in the MIDI music format. But the goal is not necessarily to actually play 40 notes at the same time. In fact, ringtone creators will increasingly use these channels to add special effects such as echoe, reverb, or portamento. The most evolved ringtone engines, the SMAF chipset from Yamaha, also let ringtone creators mix real audio clips with MIDI instruments.
Microsoft introduced its Smartphone operating system for cell phones in 2003 and seems determined to promote the concept of "themes", not just ringtones. A theme is similar to a computer desktop theme: you can download, for example, a "jungle" theme which would combine a tropical ringtone with pictures of gorillas or the rainforest. Microsoft is not alone promoting themes, Motorola introduced a similar concept in 2002 and chances are more new cell phones will include the capacity to download themes, not just ringtones. Phones like the Motorola MPx200 series support themes.