Custom ringtones for your contacts

Yesterday I finished implementing the first release of a new program (ringtoned, i.e. ringtone daemon, i.e. I don’t have any imagination for program names) that allows setting a custom ringtone for specific contacts. Ringtoned tries to integrate nicely with the system:

  • You can select the default ringtone in Settings → Profiles as usual
  • To set a custom ringtone you go to the Contacts application, select the contact and press the new “Set custom ringtone” button in the menu
  • The dialog to set custom ringtones tries to be a perfect copy of the dialog to set the global ringtone
  • It works both for normal phone calls and GTalk/SIP/Skype calls, thanks to Telepathy
  • The ringtone is played only when the normal one would be played and at the same volume, thanks to some PulseAudio magic

Ringtoned also tries not to break your phone, if for any reasons it crashes the default behaviour should be restored. Nevertheless, this is just version 0.1, so it could be full of bugs and could make you miss phone calls. You have been warned! Moreover, replacing the default ringtone components with something more complex could make the ringtone start slightly later in case of heavy load, see my previous blog post. You have been warned again!

If you still want to give it a try, ringtoned is now in Maemo extras-devel under the name “Custom ringtones for your contacts”. If you don’t want to add the extras-devel repository (as it contains a lot of unstable software), you can download ringtoned directly from my personal repository:

Install per-contact-ringtones
Install from my personal repository
(follow the link on the N900 browser)

If you are interested in the source code, it’s in Collabora’s git repositories.

The are two major features that are missing at the moment: the ability to set a custom ringtone for anonymous phone calls and for calls from an unknown number, and the ability to set ringtones for groups and not only for single contacts. The former feature should be easy and it mainly just requires some UI, so it will be hopefully implemented shortly.
Groups are more difficult to implement because they are not supported at all by the Maemo address book; I would first have to implement support for groups and then add ringtones for the groups. I hope to be able to find time for this, but I cannot guarantee anything.

In a future post I will explain the architecture of ringtoned and how to extend it: the code that chooses the custom ringtone is actually just a small plugin of the ringtone daemon and it’s possible to write other similar plugins for different needs.

How hard can it be? (Or why you don’t have custom per contact ringtones on Maemo)

Often in blogs, forums or IRC you can find people complaining of missing features in some programs (and some of them are very rude). While they can be right sometimes, other times they just make me angry because they don’t know how difficult writing software can be, and they don’t understand the difference between a semi-working prototype and a proper stable application written by professional developers, designed by professional UI designers and tested by professional testers.

Implementing some features can actually be quite difficult and it could be better to skip those from your product and focus on other things; on the N900 one of these missing features is the ability to set customised ringtones for specific contacts.
Several people wondered how hard it can be, after all a lot of old phones do it. What they don’t consider is that, in many ways, the N900 is not a traditional phone and is more similar to a small computer. On the other hand, the N900 still needs to be reliable to be certified as a phone; for ringtones this means that the ringtone should be played as soon as the phone call is received, or the user could miss it.
Now suppose your N900 is under heavy load due to multitasking (real multitasking, like on a normal computer) and you receive a phone call from a friend; being a close friend that often calls you, you have an MP3 ringtone set just for him. The phone has to look up for the contact corresponding to the phone number, load the file from the (slow) memory card, load the libraries for playing the ringtone, uncompress the file, and finally play it. All of this on a phone under heavy load with most programs swapped out of memory!
To workaround this problem the N900 seems to do some tricks: the ringtone is uncompressed into a (big) WAV file and saved on the faster (but small) internal memory, and the component playing the ringtone is memlocked (i.e. never removed from memory). Of course, you cannot do this for all the possible ringtones or the already small disk space would be used immediately. Choosing not to uncompress the files, on the other hand, would mean keeping loaded in memory all the possible codecs.

Does this mean that it’s impossible to have a different ringtone for a specific contact on Maemo? No, it just means that if you want it you have to be ready to accept that the ringtone could start playing a couple of seconds later in some uncommon heavy load conditions. When you are ready to do that you just have to wait a couple of days, so that I can polish and publish the program I wrote to have custom ringtones :D

In other news, I’m going to GUADEC for the whole week: see you there!

I'm going to GUADEC