When the telephones was first created it would literally ring. This was accomplished by an electromagnetically-driven clapper hitting a ringing mechanism in the phone to indicate an incoming call. For decades this is how phones sounded — the only variation being the exact tone of the bells used in specific phone models.
Once the technology evolved far enough the rings became “tones.” These are electronically created sounds like chirps, warbling, or other sounds. They are essentially produced the same way as the original ring sounds, with the electromagnetic signal activating the tone on the phone. This is how all land line phones work to this day.
What most people think of when they hear the term “ringtone” is associated with cell and smart phones. These devices allow users to play customized sounds to indicate incoming calls. Phone owners can download free ringtones or purchase additional ringtones so that every caller in their contact list has their own sound or song. Modern ringtones can mimic antique phones or they can be voices or other sounds that the cell phone owner chooses. The most popular ringtones are snippets of songs, with everything from classical to rap music finding their way to cell phones around the world.