Analysts told The Telegraph that because younger people are nearly always glued to their phone screens, they do not need ringtones to know when someone is calling them

Credit: JosuOzkaritz/ iStockphoto

Ringtones are now the preserve of the old and middle aged, experts have said, and mobile phones ringing in public will soon become a social “faux pas”.

App downloads for ringtones in the UK have slumped by nearly a quarter in recent years, with analysts saying one reason for the decline is young people keeping their phones on silent.

It comes after surveys by regulator Ofcom nicknamed 16-24-year-olds “Generation Mute” after more than twice as many said they preferred instant messaging to phone calls.

Analysts told The Telegraph that because younger people are nearly always glued to their phone screens, they do not need ringtones to know when someone is calling them. They also said teenagers prefer to communicate silently and discreetly through messages to avoid parents and others eavesdropping on their conversations.

The trend comes after ringtones emerged as a booming industry in the late nineties and early noughties, when people viewed having unique or novel tones as a way to personalise their phones. In 2004, the Crazy Frog ringtone, made by the Swedish producer Jamba!, grossed £40 million after becoming a hit with young users.

Loud ringtones blaring in public became such a ubiquitous feature of that era that they were famously lampooned on the Channel 4 comedy Trigger Happy TV, with comedian Dom Joly carrying an oversized mobile that would blast out the famous Nokia “Gran Vals” ringtone in libraries and cinemas.

Youngsters ‘using phones in furtive manner at school’

However, since then the public’s appetite for ringtones has steadily waned as smartphones have developed multiple new ways to communicate beyond the traditional voice call.

Data from mobile phone analysts Sensor Tower showed that installation of apps related to ringtones have slumped in the UK by 20 per cent between 2016 and 2020, from 4.6 million to 3.7 million.

Jenny Ehren, associate research director at the analytics firm Childwise, said part of the reason was that the current generation of young people had become used to using their phones in a furtive manner to avoid detection at school.

She said: “A lot of them take their mobiles to school when they are not technically meant to have them and that behaviour becomes more of a habit. When they get older, privacy is still an important factor for them. It is easier to message someone discreetly than it is to speak to them on the phone, particularly at home.”

Another trend hastening the ringtone’s demise is the growing popularity of wearable tech. Childwise research showed that increasing numbers of young people, especially girls, are now wearing fitness devices such as Apple Watches or Fitbits.

These devices allow users to keep their phones on silent because they will tap or vibrate to alert when a message or call comes through.

Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at comparison site Uswitch, said the phenomenon meant the UK was heading in the same direction as Japan, where having a loud ringtone going off in public is frowned upon as poor social etiquette. Visitors are often advised that putting their phone on silent is expected and referred to as switching to “manner mode”.

Mr Doku said: “With regard to changing habits [around ringtones], I think it is very much to do with being discreet. Equally, I think we are about five or 10 years behind Japan, where it is very much a faux pas to have your ringtone on in a public environment.”