FCC asks Apple to activate iPhone FM receivers

My Android FM receiver app.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Van Hoy, who forwards the following story from The Verge:

FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants Apple to turn on the FM radio that’s hidden inside of every iPhone. In a statement today, he asked that Apple “reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.” The FM radio, he said, can be used to receive “life-saving information” during disasters.

Apple said Pai’s request wasn’t possible for its newest phones. “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,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. Apple seemed to indicate that it had no plans to enable FM radio on older phones either, saying that the iPhone already includes other safety features.

Most smartphones have an FM radio inside, and they have for a long time. Until recently, however, most of those radios were deactivated, so that owners couldn’t use them. There were a handful of reasons for this, but two of the more obvious ones were that if your phone receives FM radio, you’re going to be less likely to pay for music and extra wireless data — instead, you’d just tune into the radio for free.[…]

Click here to read the full article at The Verge…

Dan notes: “The one false part of Apple’s response is about the antenna. Earbuds are used for the FM antenna in mobile phones. I use mine often when I travel.” 

That’s correct, Dan–I use my Moto phone’s FM receiver a lot when travelling and, in fact, it requires earphones to operate. Some of the latest iPhones don’t even have earphone jacks, but most previous models did.

It’s too bad Apple won’t allow for the receiver to be unlocked in the models that do have FM radio. It’s such a great, accessible and free feature.

Thanks again for the tip, Dan!

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7 thoughts on “FCC asks Apple to activate iPhone FM receivers

  1. Rob Wagner

    Folks,
    If I understand the situation correctly, Apple has not had an FM-capable chip installed in either iPhone 7 and 8. Why would FCC ask Apple to activate FM on a chip that’s not even in the current or recent iPhones? In addition, the current models don’t have headphone jacks, so it’s not possible to use the jack as a connection point to an antenna. As for earlier models, the chips were used for their wireless and Bluetooth capabilities. The fact that the chips also had FM capability is irrelevant as it was never intended to open up that function. And if FM was opened up, user experience (i.e. signal quality) would likely be highly variable and dependent on the user’s current location.

    Reply
  2. DanH

    Both iPhone and Android are designed and headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley. Neither had any problem providing FM receivers with their smart phones. Somehow, I don’t believe there is an inherent incompatibility with a device using the both the FM broadcast band and the 2.4GHz band for Bluetooth. Also, I don’t believe that there is no alternative to an external wire FM antenna with the larger smart phones popular today. Virtually all wireless phone service in the USA is provided exclusively by the Big Four telecom corporations. They sell most of the phones and all of the data and control features provided by the phone manufacturers. I don’t understand why the FCC asked Apple to solve this problem. It’s much bigger than Apple alone.

    Reply
  3. Mark Handsfield

    I’d probably use an FM chip in my iPhone if it was available, but I doubt it’s a common request by the general public. The amount of information available online is greater than on FM radio. The newer phones don’t have the analog jacks that would be required to receive, as the digital and power port is not capable of that. Also, it seems very common for device manufacturers to disable this FM chip. I’m not sure why, but it’s not just trying to earn more cash for the service providers. The case I use most for this is the raspberry pi computer (for those who don’t often tinker with digital electronics, a small computer based on some of the tech found in smartphones, although it’s more flexible and gives many more possibilities). The latest version has one of these communication chips that has an FM capability, but it’s disabled. I haven’t yet figured if it’s disabled in software only, or also electrically disconnected. This type of device is built with flexibility in mind, so I am pretty sure that it’s disabled for some good reason. I’m not sure what it is, but, for example, I would not be surprised if it causes some type of interference with other parts on that chip. If that’s the case, I can see device manufacturers deciding that it’s not that important.

    Reply
  4. DanH

    The problem exists with Android phones as well. My three year-old Samsung S-4 Mini has an FM radio built-in. Yes, it uses the earbud wires for an antenna. European reviews of this phone mentioned the FM receiver. AT&T disabled this radio for phones sold in the USA. Why have free music available on a smart phone when a telecom can be selling more data instead?

    Reply
  5. Tom Servo

    It’s hard to use a headphone cable as an antenna when your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack. Seems more and more (sadly) phones are going this route in the quest to be thinner and lighter. It’s stupid.

    This whole FM chip thing is stupid. The service providers should not disable a feature just to prop up their profit margins, and the FCC shouldn’t be mandating (or even asking) a specific maker to make a change when their new phones don’t even have a way to receive an FM signal at all. If FM chips were really in demand by the public, there’d be more people with them in phones bought on the free market. But there aren’t. Why? Because you’re never really more than a few feet from a radio if you need one. Heck, one of my Bluetooth dongles for headphones even has a decent FM radio built in, complete with RDS.

    Reply
  6. RonF

    “Dan notes: “The one false part of Apple’s response is about the antenna. Earbuds are used for the FM antenna in mobile phones. I use mine often when I travel.””

    Yeah, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the iPhone’s earphone cord is coupled to the receiver chip’s antenna input. From the schematics I’ve seen, it’s not.

    Reply

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