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Apple: Encouraged to Enable FM Radio on Devices by FCC

After a string of month-long disasters, the U.S. is still recovering from the extent of the havoc caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In some cities, power is still down and the roads are still causing a problem. Not to mention, cell service is still out in areas like in Puerto Rico. During such a difficult time, something basic can really be a big help; especially for those who are still affected by the effects of the hurricane.

Aside from food, water, shelter, and clothing, people need to be able to communicate with their loved ones. During the height of the storm, it is important for residents to know that help is on the way. But with communications systems down, what is there left to rely on?

Some consider FM radio to be a big help during such events. Just like the case with Hurricane Irma, updates were broadcast by disc jockeys as a way of giving assistance to those who were trapped in their homes. Through the FM radio chips embedded in smartphones, listeners were able to keep up with what was happening outside their homes.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for iPhone users. Even though these devices included an FM chip, Apple has opted not to activate FM radio on its devices. And as witnessed in times of calamity, this feature can be a lifesaver. 

On Thursday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai made a public statement addressing this concern. The FCC executive requested that Apple should activate the disabled FM radio chips that were embedded in its iPhones in the first place. Since FM radio signals were much easier to receive compared to Internet-based services over a cellular network, this can play a crucial role in public safety.

Although it may not be advertised as much, most smartphones nowadays are still capable of directly streaming local FM radio stations. The problem is, many mobile carriers and smartphone manufacturers opt to disable this function. Many believe this is so they can encourage their customers to go for paid services that use up mobile data. This has all been argued in the past between consumer electronics industries and broadcasting networks. The extent of the tiff has even involved Congressional hearings. 

Thankfully, there have been some manufacturers that have enabled FM tuner on their devices. These brands include names like Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola. In addition to this, the big major carriers have provided some support. Despite these, a number of higher-end models still do not allow the functionality. And even though Verizon doesn't support as many FM-enabled devices like its competitors do, it has shown little improvement.

So why is all the pressure on Apple? Compared to the other smartphone manufacturers, Apple is among the famous companies to have never adapted to this change. The FCC chair says that it's about "time for Apple to step up the plate and put the safety of the American people first."

But it looks like Pai is not the only one trying to convince Apple to "do the right thing." Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been said to back the effort. At the same time, legislators have started urging phone manufacturers to enable FM chips in their devices. Pai also has the support of the National Association of Broadcasters, which has since been lobbying the phone industry to let its users access FM.

Apple has since responded to the FCC chair's request by releasing a statement, which reads:

"Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products."

Apple did not comment on why the newer iPhone models were unable to pick up broadcasts via radio or if it intends to make the FM tuner available in pre-iPhone 7 devices. A number of smartphones that come equipped with an enabled FM chip makes use of a cord from a wired headphones as an antenna. Considering Apple has since removed the headphone jack from its devices, it could be a reason why such devices do not come with FM radio support.

Source: Ars Technica, Fierce Wireless

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Comment Page :
  1. On a side note, straight talk's $45' plan now includes 10gigs of data.

  2. Receiving a radio station over the air is not referred to as 'streaming.' And probably part of the reason the newer iPhones weren't designed to have FM receivers embedded is that they no longer have the capability of using wired headphones, which is what most other phones use as their antenna for this purpose.

    1. Of course that's NOT TRUE. IPhones still support 3.5mm headphones, you just need to carry around the dongle as well. Maybe they chose not to do so, but it would have been trivial to wire the FM chip to use the dongle for output and antenna.

    2. How many people in such an emergency where they might want FM radio will have LOST this dongle?

      Luxuries like the "dongle life" that is required for iPhone fans go out the window when things get tough. And the better designed devices where you don't really need nearly as many dongles and up shining through.

      Basically, getting rid of the headphone jack in the iPhones was it cost cutting measure to save a few cents on plug hardware. It wasn't "courage", it wasn't an improvement or anything else.

      And yes this is one of those ways in which a $30 burner Android has superior design to an iPhone. Pop off the back cover, and you might find a removable battery and an SD card slot. There you will have found two more ways in which the ultra cheap Androids are superior to thousand-dollar iPhones.

      If Apple could convince enough fanboys that having no screen on their phones at all was a great strength, I'm sure they would go ahead and do that too. And tack another $200 onto the price.

      Since they couldn't call it "courage", they might end up calling such a move something like "bravery".

  3. When we are talking about FM radio's availability, lets not talk about only iPhone, Media has to focus on Android phones also. Suffice it to say that there are lot of groups in there whose bottom lines would affect.

    However, it's sad that only natural disasters would shake things up.

    Zenfone 4 Max has an FM radio, per Asus website. But no mention of it in the distributors' sites.

    Asus also has a legalese that they reserve the right to change specifications!

  4. This is one reason we have Motorola phones, currently Moto e4's. Motorola was smart to keep FM radios in their phones. Love listening to free FM that doesn't take away from my data. Great for emergency situations too. It's a shame Apple disables FM in their phones, seems like corporate greed to me and to force Apple users to buy an app and use their data to utilize FM radio.

  5. Sad, Apple cares so little about safety. Can't sell songs if you can listen free I guess.

  6. Fat chance. Why would they comply when they have Apple Music subs to sell?

    1. Interesting conspiracy theory, but there are many other sources of music available than "Apple Music" on iPhone.

      Besides I think this isn't the battle that should be fought. A phone with an FM radio has just half a radio in it. If there are going to add FM, they should add AM as well: it is much better suited for information and can carry a lot farther.

  7. " These brands include names like Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola." ... my ZTE Max Pro got FM radio and I use it all the time.

  8. It's all about the benjamin$

  9. It is both disappointing and sad that unlike many sub $100 android phones, Apple and Mr. Cook fail to provide basic FM radio access to their Apple product customers. In addition to the public safety info access noted in the above article, many fitness establishments have multiple TV shows simultaneously broadcasting with the audio only available via FM radio.

    As someone mentioned "it's all about the benjamin$" with a touch of arrogance.

  10. It's a win-win. Apple will contend that it isn't blocking anything (as there's nothing to block) and the Ajit Pai FCC will get to pass itself off as a champion of the people (which it isn't,) looking out for them in troubling times. I wonder how much the NAB slipped him to pick up this irrelevant charge.

  11. iPhone users wouldn't be caught in a natural disaster in the first place.

    They'd just hop on the first private jet to one of their many vacation homes.

    1. They could also save themselves using the new iPhone 8s with the exploding battery problem as rescue flares.

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