The fact that the wireless modem found in every iPhone features built-in FM radio capabilities that are intentionally disabled in software is getting some renewed attention following the strong hurricane season in the United States.

According to Bloomberg today, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is pressuring manufacturers to activate the FM radio chips embedded in nearly all smartphones.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters:

Broadcasters are providing information on how to evacuate quickly, where flood waters are raging, how to get out of harm’s way if there’s a tornado or a hurricane.

The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling.

He’s totally right about that. iPhone accounts for more than 40 percent of the US smartphone market so no wonder they’re singling out Apple as an example.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai:

The FM chip is a valuable functionality, not just when times are good or when it helps you save battery life or reduces congestion on the wireless network, but especially when it’s an emergency. People want to tune in to the radio broadcast and get emergency information and this can be a valuable way of doing that.

The FCC chairman directly called on Apple to activate the FM radio in iPhones:

In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so. In fact, in my first public speech after I became Chairman, I observed that “you could make a case for activating chips on public safety groundsalone.”

When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.

Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones.

It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.

UPDATE: Apple responded to FCC’s request with this statement:

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.

I’ve never understood why the FM radio features are disabled in phones.

At the very least, enabling an FM tuner built into Qualcomm and Intel modem chips would let iPhone owners listen to FM radio over the air. Not everyone wants to stream their music.

But way more important than listening to some tunes over airwaves is listening to emergency FM radio broadcasts. Sure, you can do it over Wi-Fi or cellular, but that’s problematic when hurricanes knock people off the power grid and cripple cellular services for weeks or months.

When disaster strikes, the FCC sees an exponential surge in radio audiences.

In those situations, over-the-air radio is a lifeline. I think there should be a law prohibiting technology companies from disabling FM radio capabilities in products for no apparent reasons. Critics rightfully say Apple clearly doesn’t want to cannibalize its streaming service by giving iPhone owners access to free radio service over the airwaves.

As the FCC chairman said earlier this year: “It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don’t enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman.”

Thoughts? Should Apple and other companies activate FM receivers in smartphones?

Post your comments below.

  • edwilk55

    I can’t remember the last time I listened to the radio, but for emergencies, definitely could see the need. Even locally.

  • anonymous

    People still use fm lol … why not just send and amber alert for all that emergency stuff

    • trumpet444

      “…..when hurricanes knock people off the power grid and cripple cellular services for weeks or months.”

      • anonymous

        Wouldn’t fm towers need power

      • Joey_Z

        You can have fm towers 40 miles away or in case of am towers, hundreds of miles away that are completely independent of the natural disaster to broadcast. But If you are in the center of a hurricane, chances are cellular towers around you are also down since they only have a range of 2 miles on average… Even if a tower 10 miles away survived and has power to transmit, you won’t be able to connect to it, or already congested… Radio is ‘passive’, you don’t have to ‘connect’ to the tower, as long as you can pick up the radio wave, you can listen to it.

      • anonymous

        So I read an article that newest iPhones don’t have the FM chip only the old ones lol

      • Joey_Z

        funny how this is related to “People still use fm”

  • Daniel Nadeau

    Just because the wireless modem has an FM tuner built in, doesn’t mean they actually hooked up an antenna to it. Without an antenna it wouldn’t work very well

    • AMB_07

      usually plugging in a headphone would work through the headphone ja—…
      … ohhhhhhhh

  • Stephen Hedger

    Don’t you need headphones plugged in to get a reception?

    Not everyone in a hurricane has headphones with them.

    If your that bothered about using a radio then carrying a radio with you.

    As if Apple would ever give us something for free without charging a subscription for it.

    • Jay

      Yea having headphone would probably be needed but that isnt the point.. and with all the innovations in tech im sure that can be worked around.. from a safety stand point its pretty useless to have the chip already inside. They should enable them just because.. emagine automakers selling cars with built in airbags that at are disabled by default.

      • teforne
      • White Michael Jackson

        Grusome comparison. But it gets the point across.

      • Jay

        If you break it down not really, you only need them in the event of an accident, after that it’s pretty useless an FM radio could come in handy for event that happens around the locally or around the world and as long as there is a broadcast available it’s useful.

  • TheAvatarNice

    Says “Om top of that” instead of “on” 🙂

  • Gaetan Leblond

    Fm radio would be a great avantage

  • Pokie Peaches

    I think apple need to resolve this issue fast. I wonder if it could be resolved over simple software update like blackberry did “many years ago with” Blackberry OS 7.1 i think. I’m on the opinion that news travels faster on Social Media than FM nowadays.

  • Siri Tim Cook Holness

    Not everyone wants to stream there music but no1 wants to listen to the crappy Justin Bieber songs that is all radio play

  • Yes, I do think Apple should enable the FM radio. There are far more uses for it than just listening to music, and this story raises an important point about it.

    • JustAnotherDude

      In future models, sure, maybe. There’s a reason most FM devices use the headphone cord as the antenna, and that is because FM requires longer antennas than cellular bands. Maybe in the 2018 iPhones… oh wait, nowhere to plug in the antenna. Damn.

      Okay, so maybe activating it in the old phones. Sure, except the solder says no. First, there’s no antenna connection between the headphone cord and the chip. Second, that part of the chip is (almost certainly) not receiving power, and that’s probably not configurable in software.

      So yeah, as soon as Apple removed the headphone jack a year ago, I gave up on this. Thankfully, I keep my 6th Gen iPod nano handy, which does have a tuner. And I intentionally don’t live in areas prone to wide-area destructive events.

  • Aqeel Ahmed

    I prefer listening FM radio instead of music while driving. FM is such a nice thing that I am always updated on happenings around me. Apple should enable FM

  • Steve Harold

    There are a few reasons.
    1. As mentioned below it would require headphones plugged in to work.
    2. If you can stream music on the radio it might slightly impact Apple’s sales of Apple Music and iTunes purchases.
    3. Apple would have no control of FM which would bother them. The technology is not seamless, and it doesn’t fit Apple. Static and bad quality isn’t in Apple’s DNA. They only work with new, innovative technologies that have been perfected. FM has never been perfected. It’s the whole Apple never does it first, but they do it best.
    4. Apple doesn’t want to clutter their own music app with this, and it would be aqukward as a separate app, and they most likely don’t want to give this to 3rd party developers.

    • Abhinav Chaudhary

      ‘Static and bad quality isn’t in Apple’s DNA’ what a joke. Like charging your apple pencil plugged into your ipad protruding out was perfect, oh and Apple maps weren’t bad at all. Hahahah you are a joker and an iSheep.

      • Julio M.

        iSheep for sure lol

      • Uhm, then charge your Apple Pencil with your lightning cable? That’s what I do. Or are you really saying that because Apple also allowed us to charge it on the go when we don’t have power nearby that’s a really bad thing and we should have been left without use of our devices?

        And yes, Apple Maps was bad on day one compared to where it is now, but apparently you never used Google Maps on day one or you’d know that Apple was years ahead of Google when they both launched. Despite its many problems, at least Apple Maps knew that there was more than 1 continent on day 1 unlike Google 😛

      • Abhinav Chaudhary

        The back side of the apple pencil could have been made foldable so when you charge it with ipad it doesn’t pretrude out like it does now (Apple’s design flaw), this is the same company we are talking about who once made such a wonderful magnetic charger and comparing google maps with apple maps is such bs. Google maps was devepoped in such different time considering the pace of technology over the last decade.
        You know it’s easier to just accept that you don’t care if Apple has lost it’s carm and implement stupid design, no one cares, you can buy an ipad and charge your apple pencil with it. All I am saying is Apple is really f’ing up things lately.

      • I guess I don’t understand how it’s a design flaw. Again, it’s an optional feature and since the Apple Pencil actually has surprisingly good battery life you could easily use it every day and never plug it into the iPad. I fail to see how enabling that as a charging option is a flaw. If it bothers you that much don’t charge it that way.

        And while it’s true that it’s not a completely fair comparison to look at both google and Apple maps day one launch, it’s equally unfair to compare apple’s day one launch to google maps and their half a decade of refinements. To just throw out statements like Apple maps was bad is not being intellectually fair handed.

        So while I agree with your general sentiment about Apple slipping in quality (I’ve been criticizing them a lot lately) the items your picking make you look like an angry android fan more than a rational critic. Perhaps there are more weighty criticisms you could bring in the future? (Just some advice from a fellow Apple critic for whatever that’s worth)

      • Leopoldo Pereira

        Another fandroid troll. Did your Note 7 exploded? LOOOOOL

      • Abhinav Chaudhary

        HAhahahhaha noob f I’m not a fandroid, I use iPhone, mac and iPad. So don’t even think i am trolling here, it’s just that unlike stupid people like you I have deduce facts and judge which you clearly can’t cause you lack the basic thing to do that ‘a working brain’.

      • Leopoldo Pereira

        OK, Fandroid! LOOOOOOOOOOOL

    • Iskren Donev

      While I agree for the most part with your statements, I just wanted to point out an interesting tidbit: Apple enabled the FM Radio on the iPod Nano 6th generation (possibly others as well, I only own this one and can speak from first hand experience).

      So there’s a precedent at having FM on an Apple mobile device. And thus the reason is likely not the inferior audio quality. Most likely is that they are going wireless and that is clashing with the idea of using the headphones as an antenna.

  • Matthew Shaw

    I whole heartedly agree this needs to be enabled.

  • Farid Hennaoui

    Will Apple do it i doubt but i hope so

  • TSA

    without power, a mobile smartphone with fm tuning would soon become useless. Whereas, there are plenty of portable am/fm/sw radios that operate on disposable batteries.

    • M_Hawke

      Yes, however, when there is an emergency, people will have their phone on them, not their emergency radio.

      • teforne

        The irony

  • Martynet

    People should have a choice…

  • M_Hawke

    I think Apple should do what they want to do. After all, they know what’s best for us and they also know what we REALLY want, right? Right?

  • TheShade247

    Even tho they enable FM, it still won’t work with your wireless headphones or without headphones. FM needs an antenna which is usually a headphone wire.

  • Guilherme 

    I totally agree they should turn it on. I love listening to local radios, even if they play shit music most of the time… And it’s a getaway if you’re without data.

  • Mads Teland

    If it was for Norway, it will be very much useless due to DAB+ radio is here. Anyway it will something useful if it did use very local radio stations because they can use FM radio until 2022.

  • techfreak23

    So even if Apple were to issue a software update enabling the FM radio, it still won’t help a lot of those people currently affected by the recent storms anyway since they have to have internet to get the update in the first place… not saying they shouldn’t enable it, but this would be for future emergency situations.

  • Byambaa

    Apple never want to give services from them they can’t profit and FM is one of them. “Apple: Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, …” lol. Well, there is a simle thing they can/could do. Which sadly not in their interest.

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