RALPH SIMON demurs when he is called the father of the ringtone, but the bespectacled music entrepreneur certainly paved the way for pop songs to be used for incoming calls on mobile phones.In the mid-1990s, Mr Simon realised pop songs could personalise mobile phones. But his efforts to get the rights to use songs as ringtones were blocked by the American record industry, which feared it would lose control of the music.Frustrated, Mr Simon flew to Australia and approached the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), which granted his company’s request for licences to use music for phones. Armed with APRA’s approval, he returned to the US and used the Australian precedent to persuade American labels to follow suit. Since then, pop ringtones have become ubiquitous. To some, they’re also noise pollution, which suggests Mr Simon – in Sydney to talk technology as part of the Vivid Sydney festival – has a lot to answer for.”The thing is this: when we first started doing those ringtones, it became clearly evident that people under the age of 25 wanted to have something that was a personality badge … If you want AC/DC Back in Black then that tells something about you, more than if you had a Kylie Minogue hit,” he said.And far from lamenting maddening ringtones such as Crazy Frog, he sees it as a ”a key point in widening the acceptability of ringtones”.Mr Simon is carrying three mobile phones on his visit to Sydney. He has selected the sound of an old-fashioned Bakelite phone for two of them and the Clash’s London Calling for the third. But he denies the old-fashioned sound is a nostalgic choice, seeing it as pragmatism.”It’s simply a clutter breaker,” he said. On the wider issue of mobile technology, Mr Simon regards ”alternate reality” as a key area. For example, using a camera phone to take a photo of the harbour bridge and then being instantly shown via the web how to sign up to climb it.Mr Simon said Australians were among the world’s best innovators in mobile technology and also some of the keenest in adopting new ideas. At his address to the X|Media|Lab Global Media Ideas Summit at the Sydney Opera House tomorrow, he will explore how to get Australian innovations ”from the bedroom to the boardroom”.
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