The Reason The iPhone Alarm Tone Is So Annoying


Own an iPhone? Know someone who owns an iPhone? Chances are if you’re a human being from Earth you’ll have answered yes to at least one of those questions, and we’ve got some news that’s going to rock your world.

The clocks go back an hour overnight (October 29) at 2am, which doesn’t cause as much confusion as it used to what with our fancy smartphones and their ability to change time zones and daylight saving settings automatically.

With the ubiquity of mobile phones in our lives and their ability to do almost anything and everything for us, plus the clocks changing to briefly fend off those dark winter mornings, it sets us up for a nice little investigation we’ve done about a technological monstrosity that plagues us all. Even if you don’t own an iPhone.

You know, this bad boy:

How annoying is this? #iphone #radar #alarm #feature #unilad

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Radar. It’s the sound that sends shivers down spines around the world. In beds. In offices. On public transport. Everywhere. As phones play a greater part in our lives, from cameras to credit cards, social media to watching movies, taking a place in almost every space of every day, it makes sense we’d use them as alarm clocks.

It’s a facepalmingly simple occurrence at the end of the day when we’re at our sleepiest we all lazily set our alarms, many of us we don’t change the default alert Radar.

There has been no study into how many people use this bloody alarm, but if the UNILAD office is anything to go by or the sounds that you hear on the high street, it’s most iPhone users. Which is a lot of people. And a lot of iPhones you just want to throw across the room.

Andrew Stafford, Co-founder and Executive Creative Director of global music services agency, Big Sync Music, explains when it comes to sounds while we’re all different, we’re all the same in nature.

Andrew told UNILAD:

Music is renowned for being hugely subjective and sound is no different. This, quite often, has to do with access and attachment.

The sound of a motorbike, for example, can be nigh on orgasmic to an enthusiast, while to haters, aneurysm inducing.

Some sounds do seem to cut through this subjectivity though. I don’t meet a lot of people saying ‘oh I just love the sound of babies screaming’ which suggests there are some primal instincts that sometimes override our subjectivity.


Toby Saville, chief technical officer of Quiet Mark, an international approval award that aims to make the world a nicer sounding place, explains Radar has ‘a short, sharp rapidly occurring tonal sound’ and ‘a short decay time’ which is at a frequency most sensitive to the human ear, most sensitive to frequencies between 2-5kHz.

Ironically, though, on a scientific basis, Radar isn’t the worst offender. Presto, he says ‘has similar characteristics to Radar with the added negative feature of dissonant frequencies’ which are ‘combinations that sound bad when played together’.

After analysing a sample group of iPhone ringtones, Toby concludes:

The sound characteristics, time and frequency help indicate whether a ringtone is perceived as pleasant or unpleasant by most people.

Non-acoustic factors are also just as important, and it can’t be ignored that the Radar ringtone is the default wake-up alarm tone on the iPhone.

Andrew Stafford explains that annoying sounds can come in three varieties, which boxes Radar ticks all:

The first is tone i.e. the actual nature of the sound itself, so think fingers on a chalk board or Katie Hopkins’ voice. Both are intrinsically evil.

The second is unnecessary repetition. A good example of this might be a 15 year old singing the words ‘baby’ 56 times in 3 minutes – yeah I counted them – in a song already titled Baby.

The third is Pavlovian response.

So why do we do it to ourselves, or rather why does Apple do it to us?

‘Radar sounds like an updated version of the traditional alarm clock’ explains Nick Braund, Head of Technology & Innovation at PHA Media. He notes the Radar tone is fairly passive, so shouldn’t make you jump out of your skin but it ‘still manages to cut through anything else and therefore works annoyingly well as an alarm’.

So why don’t we play something less offensive, a favourite song perhaps? Nick says:

People never want to wake up to a song they like as they’ll quickly start to loathe it so it’s no surprise that most don’t bother to change the tone – they’ll hate whatever it is.

Just to make things more confusing, Andrew Stafford notes some sounds that are annoying tonally can elicit positive responses, like the sound of a school bell. Depending on your experiences of school, I assume.

Max Pixel

The main reason the iPhone Radar alert is so annoying is something all the experts agree on, and it stares you in the face through the screen as you swipe to get rid of that sickening sound every morning.

Nick Braund’s view is:

Regardless of tech, no one likes to wake up. The Radar alarm is just another thing to blame when you want to turn back over.

Anything that wakes you up is always going to be annoying; whether it’s noise, light or partner… so it’s no surprise people hate Radar, which is painfully the default Apple alarm.

Toby Saville argues:

Most people have negative associations with having to wake up in the morning…If you wanted to choose an iPhone ringtone that should be perceived as much more pleasant, Cosmic has more mid-frequency (circa 1 kHz) content, is generally broadband in its frequency content (even frequency distribution) and has a soft, long decay time.

And Andrew Stafford makes us all feel like Pavlov’s dog, explaining:

It’s less the sound itself that’s annoying and more the outcome that is associated with it.


But Stafford does point out the benefits of our brains being wired to have such reactions:

Being annoyed by sound is part of being human, it’s good for you. Otherwise the blind would end up running into busy roads.

So the next time you hear the sha-na-na-na-nuh as your day begins, or your housemate’s phone going off while they’re in the shower and you’re still trying to stay asleep, or a colleague’s reminder for a meeting blaring away, you’ll know exactly why.

And when the clocks go back, if you set your clocks back, do us all a favour and change your alarm tone.