Remember ringback tones? You know, those songs and messages that you could customize to play so different people would hear different things when they called you? Well, RealNetworks aims to bring them to your smartphone.
The company launched an iOS and Android app called Listen in the United Kingdom last fall, and today it’s bringing the app to the United States. In the US, the app (which requires carrier integration to work) is initially limited to T-Mobile subscribers.
The idea might sound like a bit of a throwback. However, in a post from earlier this year, RealNetworks’ Ken Murphy said that in 2011, there were between 150 million and 200 million ringback tone subscribers in the world. And while he acknowledged that this is largely seen as a feature phone technology that’s not relevant on smartphones, Murphy argued that it represents “untapped potential”.
I spoke to Max Pellegrini, president of RealNetworks’ Mobile Entertainment division, about today’s app. He said that by launching in the UK first, the company was able to treat its initial market as “a testbed” before its bigger US launch.
“In terms of lessons learned, we are still in the early days, but we’ve definitely seen that engagement of consumers is significantly better than the traditional legacy services,” Pellegrini said, something he attributed to the app’s ease-of-use.
The RealNetworks team gave me a quick demo of Listen, and it did indeed look simple to assign different songs to different users (RealNetworks’ music catalog includes songs from Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and independent labels), to activate different status messages like “I’m working out”, and to set special holiday ringback tones (so that, for example, Christmas music plays when someone calls you on Christmas).
You can learn more about the Listen app here. There’s a free, basic version, and paid plans for additional features starting at $2.99 per month.