What is the significance of start-up sound of a system, like mobile phones, operating systems etc.?

What aspect of user experience does it enhance?

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    What is the significance of saying "hello" to people? What aspect of social experience does it enhance? – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 13 '17 at 16:06
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    It serves as a demonstration of just how out-of-touch certain developers are with the desires of some of their users. It's one reason (sound-producing websites are the other) why I've remove speakers from all my computers. – jamesqf Feb 13 '17 at 18:32
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    @jamesqf time to meet Firefox, it can disable sounds globally – Sarge Borsch Feb 13 '17 at 20:20
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    @MonkeyZeus: Why an over-reaction? There are no circumstances in which I want my computers to make noise, so why should they have speakers? Whereas if I were to do your approach of muting/turning down the volume, I'd have to do it multiple times for every application I might use - and even then, there seem to be sites and/or programs that can override my volume=0 setting. Unplugging the speakers solves the problem once and for all, with minimal effort. – jamesqf Feb 15 '17 at 3:21
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    Sometimes, monitors fail, and you still want to know that the main system is working. – kojiro Feb 15 '17 at 11:32

15 Answers 15

up vote 121 down vote accepted

My understanding was that it came from a time when startup could take a while, during which the user's attention would be elsewhere and therefore worth notifying them when the computer was ready for use.

Something similar was mentioned in answer to another question:

The Operating System took so long to start up that the chime notified people that it was worth bothering to come back to the computer from, e.g., making a coffee. (Should we use a sound/jingle when users arrive on our site or open our app?)

According to comments made by Microsoft to Mashable, the startup sound was removed in Windows 10 because there's no need to draw attention to startup:

When we modernized the soundscape of Windows, we intentionally quieted the system. Using Windows 10, you will only hear sounds for things that matter to you. We removed the startup sound because startup is not an interesting event on a modern device. Picking up and using a device should be about you, not announcing the device's existence.

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    Also, the startup sounds is used to assure you that the sound hardware is installed properly and working. Puppy Linux uses a puppy bark to let you know that ALSA is working correctly. – Ismael Miguel Feb 13 '17 at 15:13
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    In case of Macs, it can also serve the function to announce to a whole silent library "hey, I have a Mac". – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 13 '17 at 15:59
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    AFAIK, on every 68k- an PPC-Mac, the startup sound indicated that the machine passed the POST (Power-On Self Test, or whatever you want to call it). I'm not sure if that carried over to the x86 architecture. Also, with that sound, the user has quick feedback that the power button/switch has been operated correctly, before any CRT hat a chance to get a picture on the screen. The latter is of course not really an issue anymore. – Feuermurmel Feb 13 '17 at 21:50
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    It should be noted that the Windows startup sound is still present in Windows 10; it's just disabled by default. If one wishes, it can be enabled in the sound settings. – cybermonkey Feb 16 '17 at 20:09
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    ...when startup could take a while... Though most personal PCs, etc., have it disabled, Wake-on-LAN can also be usefully signalled by startup sounds, especially if the device shouldn't be starting up. Wake-on-LAN is an Ethernet/token-ring standard. – user2338816 Feb 20 '17 at 8:53

Part of it is iconic branding, much like putting the logo on the boot screen. I can still remember the startup sound from windows xp and playstation one.

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    And the marketeers and "creatives" should take note, that some of your users hate it. If it's not trivially disabled, it will form part of the reason that the next time the user is buying such a device, he will choose some other brand. What I hate most about my mobile: the doom-laden Samsung startup jingle! – nigel222 Feb 14 '17 at 14:17
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    @nigel222: in most mobile phones that I've owned, you can disable the boot sound in the system settings. Is this not the case with yours? – Lie Ryan Feb 14 '17 at 14:47
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    @Lie_Ryan I can't find a disable in a minute of looking (two minutes after reading your reply). It's not worth spending longer on. It'll just continue to annoy me and hurt Samsung's chance of a repeat sale, hence my post. – nigel222 Feb 15 '17 at 9:41
  • So this would put it into one basket with sound design for slamming car doors? – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 15 '17 at 17:18
  • Oh man, I used to love the PS3 startup sound, like an orchestra tuning up :-D – Rikki Feb 19 '17 at 22:32

To give auditory feedback to the user that the system has started loading.

Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Prevent users from hitting the power button multiple times.

    Users should not wonder whether the system is starting or not. If there was no starting sound how would users know that the system has successfully started? They might press the power button a couple of times not knowing that the system is already starting which can cause loss of information and a lot of headaches;

  2. Display not working during repairs

    During hardware repairs when technicians haven't connected display or the display is not working and cannot get visual feedback. In this situation auditory feedback comes in very handy.


Update:

  1. Cue for visually impaired (@Devin answer)

    Visually impaired people rely on hearing and touching when trying to understand the environment around them. If there are no auditory(sound) or haptic(touch/vibration) cues they won't know what is happening with the device.

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    My recollection is that it was a Mac thing initially - Mac's have always gone "Boing" when they fire up (which Windows copied). You could use it as part of fault finding to identify where things had gone wrong. – PhillipW Feb 13 '17 at 18:12
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    @PhillipW Earlier Macs (I had the SE FDHD) went "beep" when switched on, and "bong" once the startup was finished. My understanding is that this was because the "bong" audio didn't fit in ROM, so they put it in the System instead, where it was only available once the OS had loaded. Later systems put the bong in ROM and played it as soon as power was applied (and also had the "car crash" and "chimes of death" sounds for startup diagnostics). – Wolfgang Feb 13 '17 at 21:23
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    @wolfgang No, that's wrong. I have a closet full of compact Macs. None of them "beep" and "bong", including the SE FDHD. There is a single chime when the Mac powers on and passes the power-on self-test. The "bong" chime is indeed in ROM, and not part of the system software on disk. All of the other diagnostic sounds are in ROM, too, including the car crash, chimes of death, etc., and thus they're all model-specific. The initial chime has been in ROM since the very first Macintosh. Now, the system software also has sounds installed, but they don't play automatically on startup. – Cody Gray Feb 14 '17 at 4:15
  • @CodyGray I've just spent some time on YouTube, and all of the SEs I can find do the beep I remember (e.g. youtu.be/95nGY_o_FoY) but not the bong as the Finder is starting, which was a resource in the System file. It's entirely possible that this was not Apple standard, as the computer had at least two previous owners. My previous comment was based on my assumptions from the time, given that the other (newer) Macs I knew played an identical bong at a different time, but appears to be incorrect. – Wolfgang Feb 14 '17 at 5:56
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    Just to add my two craps to this discussion; The "bong" is an actual sampled piece of sound placed in the ROM. The very early Macs did not use sound sample but instead generated the "beep" on the fly. – Feuermurmel Feb 14 '17 at 13:21

Beeps during POST are there to help with troubleshooting. Think of it like debugging: if you can't tell why your script isn't working or where, it helps to have it echoing its status along the way in a very verbose manner so it becomes apparent where the issue is. It's like a ping.

POST does a lot of simple things very quickly to test itself (this is all in BIOS so it's actually the motherboard firmware testing itself, and its associated components like processor and memory) like loading basic hardware drivers to talk with other components, and verifying that its own hardware such as the speaker works with a quick beep.MIDI (Talking about the speaker on the motherboard itself here, not the auxiliary speakers you plug in to the back.)

So typically, the computer makes a "beep" only after it has tested and loaded the most-basic-of-the-basics that make it possible for it to "beep". (i.e. indicates successful POST) Basically it is the response to your ping on the power button, "Hello?", "Yes, Hello! I have power and my basic hardware is functional."

So a post-POST beep is there to enhance the technician's experience, or the technical-user's.

Consider the example: You and I have just received the parts to build a new computer, so we unbox the motherboard to perform a benchtest to verify everything is functional first. We power on the system, and get no picture.

Here's a perfect example why those beeps are so important: if we get no beep, what could be wrong? 1) POST did not complete successfully, 2) Speaker hardware is damaged, 3) Major component missing (processor/memory not seated properly) 4) Manufacturer did not include BEEP after POST in firmware, so it still could have POSTed successfully and the issue really is the monitor, 5) cable, or 6) motherboard connector.

If we get one beep, that's easy: it's either the monitor or the cable (or the connector).

If we get more than one beep, that's also easy: obviously POST did not complete successfully, but now we can work out the issue (# of beeps = errorcode) quite easily with trivial research. Troubleshooting is fantastically difficult without verbosity.

After all this hardware stuff completes is where the OS takes over. While POST completes almost immediately, obviously OS takes a lot longer.

Hence, when BOOT has completed most OS's will play a "Welcome Sound" like the chimes on Windows XP or the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" ending used on the Mac.

This post-BOOT sound can be much higher quality and more detailed than the simple MIDI sounds of a motherboard speaker, so while this sound has been used for branding purposes as others have already mentioned, its primary function is to indicate that it has finished booting. (As others' answers have already mentioned.)

Thus, the Welcome Sounds enhance the end-user's experience, for it indicates BOOT has completed and they can return from making coffee now.

Side Note: It depends on how old you are if you'll notice, that nowadays POST is obfuscated in favor of a manufacturer's logo, and it completes so quick on modern hardware you wouldn't see much anyway. The beep either happens so instantaneously (right after you press the power button) that you either don't notice it, or manufacturers have started disabling it by default. Both are options you can most probably turn back on in BIOS.

Edit: It's not even BIOS we use anymore, now it's called UEFI. I'm not even 30 and my old is showing.

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    Good description of POST. Some modern motherboards have "lost the plot" and take 15-20 seconds to POST. If the "hard disk" is an SSD, then OS boot can be faster than POST. – nigel222 Feb 15 '17 at 9:57
  • @nigel222 Interesting. I'm quite used to that 15-20 second delay on old hardware like Windows 2000 machines from my dad's shop, where you could actually watch POST and absorb a little of what it does, giggle at Chinese-English "to being of more intelligent." Since they've started hiding it, I've not always bothered to go in and change it back, so I can't tell for sure how long it takes on my modern machines anymore. With new things like Windows 8 "Fast Startup" plus SSDs it really wouldn't surprise me. I know of server boards (supermicro?) that take 60-120 seconds just to complete POST! – IT Bear Feb 15 '17 at 19:04
  • They all POST. You can disable the display, you can disable a full RAM check. But if there's a physical error, you get the beeps, and they come from a motherboard device, not through the 'soundcard'. – Laurence Payne Feb 16 '17 at 15:12
  • @LaurencePayne Correct, in the beginning of the answer I explain that it's from the motherboard speaker, don't recall ever saying 'soundcard'. – IT Bear Feb 16 '17 at 17:39
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    IMO, this is the correct answer. The POST beep was/is "UX" to tell a technician or saavy user that the mainboard hardware (memory, etc.) is working properly (or not). I suspect Apple used sampled sounds because they could. Macs have always shipped with sound hardware and built in speakers. In the old days, a digital sound card was an optional PC component, so PC motherboards had to rely on their silly square wave buzzer. – Seth Feb 18 '17 at 21:35

Asides from old systems and their delay times at start, or branding considerations (both correct reasons), one reason that I might add is that it serves as a Sensory Cue.

This is true both for blind or impaired vision users, in which startup sound is of paramount importance (this sound is the only indication they have in order to know that the system is "ready to go") as well as "regular" users with no disabilities. In this regard, there are thousands of studies about sensory cues as start points that prepare the brain for a task.

Try to picture this (or even better, test if you have the means): simply think of yourself waiting for the system to start, then you hear the sound. Is your mood the same?

If you want, try doing this very simple experiment (we already did it!): simply call some people, maybe even your fellow co-workers or family, and film them from the point they press the ON button on a computer, until they hear the sound. 5-10 testers will be enough for this simple experiment. If your results are similar to ours, you'll see a very perceptible change on the testers. They will usually smile, or they will change their body position, or they will look more alert. Anyways, no matter the attitude they take, the important part is that most users (if not all) will react in some way

Note: New technologies will rely on aural(auditory)-haptic cues rather than only aural cues, so this answer is more related to desktop or laptop devices

Branding.

Of course there are other reasons to include it, like letting the user know the hardware is working, start up is finished and they can interact with the computer, etc. but it is an extremely powerful branding tool. It is familiar, it becomes expected, and if it's a good one, it can evoke strong feelings in us (see for instance http://gizmodo.com/end-of-an-era-goodbye-mac-startup-sound-1788383059 ). It reminds us of our relationship with the computer.

Although I'm sure things are much more advanced now, my Grandfather who was blind used the POST beeps in tandem the Windows opening noises (especially once 95 released) to let him know that his speech card had not caused the system to hang. I'm not sure if it was an issue with the brand of cards he would purchase, the retailer, or just the technology wasn't mature enough yet at he time but often his various speech cards (he went through a lot) would cause either a flat no POST beep (the single letting him know it was OK) and hang the system, or get up to Windows, and once there, the card would conflict with the Windows audio itself sometimes.

I just thought I'd toss in my personal experience with having a family member that always had me calling up places asking questions about the cards, and if it wasn't for the entire fanfare at startup (POST speaker beep, Windows blasting out, etc), he would have been completely at a loss as to there being any problem whatsoever. Clearly this is isolated to his particular disability, but, just hearing Windows startup cleanly and not get garbled, let him know at least it was getting to the desktop, which followed the speech card to start it's incredibly verbose description of where he was tabbed onto. I can't clearly say for sure whether or not Microsoft had this implemented with the thought of it ever being used in such a way past say having a brand 'tone' so to speak, but, it was the bread and butter for getting the PC going for my Grandfather.

Also, I wish I could have provided a better term than 'speech card', but that's what he always called them, and they were quite hefty chunks of PCB that I believed actually used the ISA slot on his motherboard. Apologies on that sparse detail!

  • "hefty chunks of PCB", "ISA slot", whew that stuff brings me back. The heavy ones I'm sure your could kill somebody with, or at least give them open gashes full of silicon and lead. And if they used through-hole solder joints, I considered those almost apocalypse-proof, because you could easily fix them with the most basic solder gun and spare parts around the shop carrying those kind of items. +1 – IT Bear Feb 15 '17 at 19:19

It's about saying Hello

Hello

The start-up sound was a machine, designed and made by people, announcing its variant of "Hello", indicating it's now present, here, and in being on, is a being, here.

By which I mean to say it's antiquated. A greeting of the past. Just as beeps and blips indicating errors in boot are now a thing of the past, the welcoming chime of a computer turning on is done.

This is most clearly felt and understood when it's removed.

This is the reason it's a big deal the new Apple Macbook Pro has turned it off.

Either:

  • Apple (and Tim Cook) no longer care about the deeper and more profound aspects of a relationship between a man and his machine, that which he has bought from Apple, designed and made by them.

or

  • Apple is moving to a place of presumption. One in which computers are presumed to always be present, where we must announce our presence to them, instead.

Now we are obliged to announce our presence, and issue requests:

The cloud, longer battery life and our awareness of most computing devices being a surveillance assistant for our perceptions of the powers-that-be have ruined the romance. Our love affair with computing is over. Big Data is our new overlord.

Hey Siri...

  • Well that was emphatic, even if it's liable to upset SE purists. – TernaryTopiary Mar 7 '17 at 10:04

It is a notification that the software and hardware checks have passed (with no beep codes), and that the user is now able to access an operating system through a command interface shell or an associated GUI (Graphical User Interface) desktop.

Depends on what you mean by the startup, do you mean when you actually log in? Or do you mean when you turn the computer on, once you get to the login screen the noises made serve to do nothing at all and are just branding?

When you actually turn on the computer it can make a variety of noises most commonly heard are beeps, depending on the motherboard each beep be it single double triple etc.. or long drawn out "solid" pings so to speak are typically intended to alert the user to an issue such as a malfunction on the board its self or the failure of hardware; HDDs, GPUs, CPUs, unfortunately, more people are unaware of this than those that aren't which means these noises typically go ignored and if one happens to be an alert tone for a malfunction the issue only gets worse down the line.

At least for computers, beeps are a way to inform the user of problems if there is no (connection to the) screen.

Different mainboard brands have different beeps: Mainboard debug sounds so that a technician has a hint on where to start his search if the system is not booting.

There are different ways an OS uses to give feedback to the user aside from visual. In the case of desktop devices, sound is used to give feedback and communicate something happened or to call for the attention of the user.

As @MattObee states in his answer, a start-up sound tells the user that the system turned on and thus is responsive. Other sound notifications can be used when an error happened or some process finished. The same happens when the system is turned off.

In the case of Mobile devices the sound feedback can be substituted with haptic feedback.

Part of the reason at least would be a way to notify the user that their sound system is working (or not working in the case of absence).

I can imagine how irritating it would be to have to wait for the entire PC to boot properly to test the sound was working!

  • You do have to. The startup sound comes right at the end of the operating system load. Error beeps (if any) from POST are played through a different system. – Laurence Payne Feb 16 '17 at 15:15

I can speak to one particular UX detail where the sounds were indeed meaningful. On older macs, if there were errors which prevented booting up, the mac would present an icon (such as a disk with a question mark on it) indicating what went wrong.

However, sometimes things to so unbearably wrong that the mac couldn't even initialize the graphics card. On moments such as these, the mac would start up not with its usual "hello" sound, but would instead emit "death chimes."

These sounds were typically chosen for intuitive effect. From experience, when a Macintosh LC emits death chimes, you know instantly that your day is not going to go well.

To function-check the audio system as early as possible.

Specifically, to verify that the hardware resources in use by the sound card were not also assigned to other devices, such as a disk controller, serial port, or printer port. Specifically, base port address, IRQ channel, and DMA channel.

When a shop assembled a PC from off-the-shelf parts, it had to be careful what they mixed and matched. You generally could use almost any combination you wanted, provided you paid close attention when configuring the options above. At the time, this was done with mechanical "jumpers", or "short-pins"-- "short" in the electrical sense of tying two wires together.

If one of these jumpers fell off the pins it was supposed to short-- not uncommon after cross-country shipping, especially if the jumper was on upside-down-- the configuration of these options could change. The drive controller and the sound card might wind up on the same IRQ, and if that happened, the computer could very well corrupt data when trying to play audio (or vice-versa).

So, testing the audio hardware as early as possible was strongly desirable-- but sound cards were still add-on cards, not stock parts. The BIOS of the computer couldn't even see them, let alone talk to them, so the operating system had to boot first, and load drivers for the card, before a test sound could play.

Here's the practical result (in those days):

Customer calls in and says the system hangs. Tech asks if the system makes it through BIOS boot. Customer says yes. Tech asks if Windows makes it to the login screen. Customer says yes. Tech asks if user can log in. Customer says no, system hangs at the desktop before any icons are displayed. Tech asks if Windows plays the test sound. Customer says no. Tech tells customer how to reboot into DOS. Customer reboots into DOS. Tech tells customer to use "sbplay" to play a test file to the Sound Blaster card. Customer says system hangs. Tech tells customer to power down system, pull sound card, and reboot. Customer powers down system, removes Sound Blaster, reboots. Customer reports he can successfully log into and use Windows. Tech tells customer to check IRQ settings on all peripherals and sound card, return for service if no conflict found.

Without it, the system might very well hang at the first thing the customer did that went "click", which could be anything. "System hangs when I log out" was sometimes caused by this, for example-- some offices would disable every sound except the shutdown sound, and that's when the problem would show up, if present.

Whatever you stick in your box, app, or vehicle, TEST IT ON STARTUP whenever possible.

  • A bit more technical detail, for those who find it interesting. The classic Sound Blaster cards used a memory port range (offset 0x200, 0x220, 0x240, or 0x260), an IRQ channel (3, 5, 7, 9, or 11), and a DMA channel (0, 1, or disabled). You might see the problem if you realize that many hard disk controller cards used IRQ 9 or 11, the standard parallel printer port ("LPT1") used IRQ 7, or sometimes 5, standard serial ports typically used IRQ 3 or 4, and DRAM refresh (critical) used DMA 0. Also, some joystick controllers used base address 0x220 or 0x240. – breakpoint Feb 18 '17 at 3:04

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