“Block” Unwanted Calls on the iPhone 4S with a Silent Ring

Using a silent custom ring can provide effective whitelist/blacklist functionality without having to jailbreak your iPhone.

One of the best reasons to jailbreak the iPhone, I thought, was to use a blacklisting app, since blacklisting apps are — blacklisted — from the Apple App Store.  Even better would be a whitelisting app that only allows calls from numbers I specify, and denies everybody else.  But guess what:  you can effectively do BOTH of those things without jailbreaking.

That’s good for iPhone 4S owners since trusted, untethered jailbreaks have been slow  to come.  It finally occurred to me:  why not just use a custom SILENT ringtone as my default ringer?  I can create a “blank” ringtone for all callers and assign custom normal ringtones to anybody I want to hear from.  EXCELLENT!

So, I searched, and not surprisingly, others have independently come up with the same solution.  I found a silent ringtone to download and the usual ringtone installation instructions.

Tip:  In iTunes, you can just use File… Add to Library… and point to the file downloaded above.  Richard K. Miller posted some nice detailed instructions with screenshots if you need them.

One thing you’ll quickly learn is that the iPhone, in the year 2012, does not support caller groups for assigning ring tones.  It’s difficult to imagine that particular design tradeoff discussion, but honestly, for my purposes, assigning each ringtone manually for every contact I want took about five minutes.  YMMV.  I’m very happy with my newfound call filtering feature — no jailbreak required.

Update 2013:   For the recent crop of iPhones including the iPhone 5S, just use the Do Not Disturb function in Settings.  Also, caller groups have finally been added in the same section.

6 thoughts on ““Block” Unwanted Calls on the iPhone 4S with a Silent Ring

  1. True. Email-to-SMS spam is not a problem for me, possibly because I’ve used the AT&T MyMessaging settings, or maybe I’m just lucky.

    SMS-to-SMS spam is a trickier problem, and I do get perhaps one SMS-to-SMS spam per month, which I dutifully report to AT&T by forwaring the text messsage to 7726 (SPAM).

    Now that the iPhone 4S jailbreak is out, if mobile-to-mobile spam becomes annoying, I might jailbreak the phone and install a whitelisting app — and the app to enable group ringtones while I’m at it.

    If you find a more creative way to handle moble-to-mobile spam, let me know. I still love the silent ringtone. Simplicity is beautiful.

  2. Thank you, Alex. Thought that I’d share my experience with this issue.

    I work nights and sleep days, but need to be accessible to a selected few in case of emergencies. My unlisted-number iPhone 4S was purchased for the job – it is left next to my bed so that I can be woken by the selected few if an emergency arises. But I’m sick of being woken up by unwanted calls and spam text messages.

    My carrier doesn’t offer the equivalent of AT&T’s MyMessaging. I don’t use email on the iPhone, so that’s not a problem in my case. I went searching for a whitelist app, and discovered that jailbreak is a prerequisite. Didn’t want to do that, but resigned myself to it until I stumbled across your simple alternative. Elated that I could solve the problem so easily, I then read Justin’s comments and became discouraged. It seemed that I had only stumbled across half a solution, as I could still get woken up by unwanted text messages.

    But I prodded further and, while this is still theoretical, I cannot understand Justin’s objection and your concurrence – at least as far as text messages go – for my Sound settings appear to allow me to do the same thing for Text as they do for voice calls. (If any of the following is new to iOS 5.1.1, it may explain the contradiction – I did not check prior to my last upgrade.)

    In “Sounds”, I can set the default “Text tone” from a list, OR SELECT A RINGTONE. (I am assuming that when I add your SILENT ringtone, that will be one of the choices.) And in “Contacts”, I can give any Contact its own Ringtone OR TEXT TONE.

    So unless I am missing something here, it seems that the SAME workaround CAN be used for SMS.

    If that’s the case, I’m much closer to a solution but still have some loose ends specific to my situation. When an unwanted call rings “silent”, how do I avoid the sound that accompanies the “Missed Call” and “New Voicemail” alerts?

    In “Sounds”, it appears that I can set the “New Voicemail” alert to the silent Ringtone (in the same way as the default Text tone). But if that’s the answer, I may need to reset that sound to “normal” each day when I wake, and reset it to silent when I go to sleep. (Contacts don’t allow custom “New Voicemail” settings.)

    As for the “Missed Call” sound, it doesn’t appear explicitly in “Sounds”. I may need to experiment to find out if it falls under another general heading. (E.g. “Reminder Alerts”?) But even if it does, and even if the appropriate category allows a custom ringtone as its default, I think that it will be like the voicemail tone in that I may have to reset it twice each day.

    Or maybe try to train myself to be woken up by ringtones but not by shorter alerts? Or re-consider jailbreaking? But I don’t yet know if black/whitelist apps also prevent those related alerts.

    Any more thoughts?

  3. Oz — the custom text tones are a relatively new and welcome feature. Thanks for the update!

    When I was using the silent ringtone, I do remember the occasional voicemail sound, but it wasn’t enough of a concern to mess with. Having worked the night shift, I understand the need for as much silence as possible, so…

    One workaround could involve a Google Voice number. You could try disabling Phone Notifications on the iPhone, but have your emergency contacts use your whitelisted GV number, and when they leave a voicemail, it would show up as a notification on your Google Voice app rather than a Phone Notification. Haven’t tried this myself, but it does sound like a possibility until iOS provides more finely granular control. Let me know how it goes. Good luck!

  4. Thank you, Alex. I appreciate the comments/suggestion.

    My knowledge of Google Voice is only theoretical, and I will investigate it further as soon as time permits. However, there may be some barriers to my using it in this manner…

    – Initially it was a US-only service, not available in my current location (Oz = Australia). I understand that some features were then rolled out to underprivileged countries such as mine, but being able to obtain a Google number was not one of them. I need to check further.
    – Last time that I looked, it was also tied to Gmail. So even if now available here, seems that I might have to set up a new email account as well, and start using email on this iPhone. (Strange as it may seem to some, I have so far cut this handset off from the Internet. No prior need, and too many other devices on which I have/use Internet access.)
    – Perhaps Google’s voice-to-text facility is better than most and may surprise me. But until now I’ve avoided that technology after too many voice-to-text translations used by some of our telephone companies have resulted in nonsensical text messages that hardly relate to the original voicemail. (Or would I have to restrict callers to only those that speak slowly, simply, briefly and clearly? 🙂 )
    – I was concerned about the (unwanted during sleep) sound made by a “missed call gone to voicemail” notification for calls that I had otherwise tried to silence or blacklist. Hearing a notification about voicemail from a whitelisted caller does not concern me as it should only happen if I have missed an emergency call by not waking up quickly enough. Hence that Google Voice feature does not appear to help in this case.

    I won’t dismiss it just on theoretical assumptions, and will investigate further (though the requirements and compromises may make jailbreaking more attractive). I also want to play around some more with the manual options. I’ll post back with whatever solution I finally adopt.

    Thanks again.

  5. Thanks to this site, this is what I’ve done to avoid being woken up by unwanted callers or text messages – how I’ve whitelisted numbers without resorting to jailbreaking my iPhone 4S (iOS 5.1.1).

    1) I downloaded the “Silence” ringtone, and installed it (via iTunes).

    2) In Settings > Sounds > Ringers and Alerts, I …
    – Set Vibrate to OFF,
    – Set the (default) Ringtone to the new “Silence”,
    – Set the (default) Text Tone to “None”.

    3) In Phone > Contacts, for each contact that I want to allow to wake me I have changed both the “ringtone” and “text tone” from “Default” to a non-silent choice.


    – Obviously, this arrangement makes other calls/texts silent all the time, not just when I sleep, and also prevents Vibrate for all calls received. (This suits my purposes, and if I need Vibrate while I’m awake, I’ll try to put up with having to turn it On/Off daily.)

    – I do not have email set up on this phone, so email notifications have not been considered.

    – I thought that I would still have a problem with New Voicemail notifications (I.e. getting a New Voicemail sound when a silent/unwanted caller leaves a voicemail message). I expected to have to set this sound to non-silent when waking, and back to “None” when going to sleep. However, I was surprised to find that setting the default TEXT TONE to “None” also silences the New Voicemail notification, regardless of the latter’s setting! I’m trying to find out if this is carrier-related, or an iPhone or iOS anomaly. Until then, if during waking hours I want to hear Voicemail notifications, I may have to toggle the default Text Tone daily.

    I may reconsider jailbreaking and a whitelisting app if daily toggling of Text Tone and/or Vibrate settings become too much of a nuisance. But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to fewer sleep interruptions.

    Thanks again!