Opinion: How to Get Apple to "Turn on the FM Chips" in Their Smartphones

Posted by Symon Edmonds

Oct 12, 2017 9:52:02 AM

At SoCast, we always strive to keep you up to date with the latest trends regarding digital in the radio industry. In recent news, due to the recent havoc created by natural disasters, American politicians have called on smartphone providers to enable the FM radio feature on their devices This week, our CEO Elliott Hurst shares his thoughts on the story, which you can find here. elliott headshot.jpg

In the wake of natural disasters hitting the US and Puerto Rico, there has been a double-down on the lobbying efforts encouraging smartphone makers to “turn on the FM chips”. Recently, it was revealed that neither the latest iPhone nor the current iPhone 7 have these chips. While Google’s Android (supported by multiple smartphone makers) is the leading OS, the iPhone represents the highest selling brand smartphone in the market, and shows no signs of slowing down vs stumbling competitors such as Samsung  and a myriad of other, smaller players.

I get it. I'm passionate about radio and all its growing channels to the audience. That includes accessing FM on smartphones for free devoid of incurring data charges. However, I'm also an entrepreneur of a software company. So I know what Apple is thinking when they’re hearing about this issue. As someone with a good view of the “other side” I’m here to tell you that FCC pressure is not going to change Apple’s mind. Apple has a product roadmap which is years in the making and once something has been eschewed from that roadmap, it’s considered non-material. It’s not that it’s not valuable, it’s just not important to Apple anymore. It’s off the roadmap. In the world of Apple, it's not as easy as flipping a switch, even if the chips were still in the actual phones. But now we’ve got to convince them to put them back as well.

Apple, an innovator, is always looking forward. In order to thrive, they must take technology and package it the best way possible to satisfy customer demands. The way they do that is that they “think different”. Everything they do, whether it be their products, their processes or even the design of their new Apple Campus, they will do it different than everybody else. That’s why they’re successful.   

This is what we’re up against. Pressuring one of the biggest companies in the world do something that in their mind is literally going backwards, and go against “think different”, their own reason for being, what made them so successful, is not the way to get things done.  And while my heart is with the good fight, I just don’t think this method going to work.

Don't shoot the messenger. Let me explain.

Product roadmaps are years in the making, so Apple already moved on from the FM chip years ago back while planning for the iPhone 7 (likely around the time of the iPhone 6). Steve Jobs knew his company could build anything and everything it wanted, but the key to success was to remain focused. Heck, the very first inspirational quote we put on the screens around our office to remind us to keep our focus was from Jobs: “I’m as proud of the things we don’t do as I am of the things we do.”  Within a product roadmap, once a tech company moves on from an old technology, there better be a damn good reason to go back on that decision.

Consider these arguments:

  • While other smartphones may include these chips, they are difficult to activate, requiring firmware updates and rigorous testing to ensure that they will not interfere with cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC reception.
  • Once a technology needs to be re-adopted, so too must maintenance and support of that technology, an ongoing commitment, not just a one time installation for Apple.
  • Other smartphone makers have said, don't look at us, talk to the network carriers. Big network carriers have traditionally pushed back against these updates since they bypass their networks to charge data for access to radio (a claim many carriers deny, blaming the smartphone makers themselves).
  • Unless there are government incentives or subsidies that I’m unaware of, Apple’s going to remain loyal to their roadmap and leadership. They are financially bigger than some entire countries. They won't be bullied.

Don’t get me wrong, I love radio and am a supporter of chip enabled phones, particularly, for those who use apps that have the ability to switch into the FM mode. However, the reality is that Apple firmly believes that nobody is in a position to tell them what to do, and to do so would be to go against their very reason for being.

However, there is a way to convince them.

Since Apple’s obligation is to its customers, it is only through customer demand will they reverse their decision, not through FCC campaigning.

Customer demand rescued us from New Coke and brought us back Coke Classic. The dominance of retro fashion demand lead Volkswagen to un-mothball (and update) the VW Beetle. Marvel was bankrupt in the ‘90’s but customer demand never dwindled until Disney’s purchase in 2009 leading to a turnaround into a multi-media $18B brand behemoth.  

We as consumers have the ability to make the choice to use smartphone providers that have enabled FM chips, if we decide that this is the most important criteria for us. However, this is something that should be dictated by the audience, the customers, not the regulators. If we focus on encouraging consumers to utilize smartphones with FM enabled chips instead of lobbying efforts, wouldn’t that ultimately be a more positive step forward? What if we created smartphone apps that leverage FM chips in unique ways? What if radio invested in a plethora these apps so diverse and useful to consumers that it makes it a key part of how they consider their smartphone buying decision? It’s not such a far fetched an idea, look at the car buying process where this is all not not even a consideration, it’s an assumption…can you imagine buying a car without an AM/FM radio in it today? We could get there with Apple.

Consumers have the power to sway these tech juggernauts, what else can radio to do help them make their voices heard?  Let me know your thoughts.
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