The FM radio has long been absent from most smartphones but lately, more and more manufacturers are enabling the FM radio chip in their devices. Now, the Federal Communications Commission is urging one of the biggest holdouts, Apple, to enable the FM radio. Only one problem — there hasn’t been an FM radio since the iPhone 6s.
While many smartphones have FM radio chips built into them — they’re just not enabled — the iPhone has not had an FM radio built into it for some time now. In other words, even if Apple wanted to finally enable the FM radio on the iPhone, it couldn’t. It also can’t turn on the FM radio chips on the older models because the iPhone hardware does not support it — the FM radios came along with the standard communication chipsets from Qualcomm and Intel.
“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,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in his original statement. “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.”
Apple responded to that statement, arguing that it has repeatedly put user safety first by allowing them to dial emergency services and access medical information straight from the home screen.
Now, none of this means that Apple shouldn’t once again build the FM radio into future iPhones. Perhaps it should. Why is it important to enable the radio? Well, in the event of a disaster like Hurricanes Harvey or Maria, cellular connectivity can be easily wiped out. Over-the-air radio can then step in to provide invaluable and sometimes life-saving information like weather alerts to the millions of people who cannot get online.
While Pai has advocated for the enabling of the FM radio in the past, it has refrained from calling Apple out by name, despite the fact that Apple has been one of the main holdouts in implementing the feature. There’s some speculation as to why companies like Apple don’t want to enable the FM radio in their phones — including the fact that they don’t want to lose Apple Music subscribers.
Update: Apple responds to the FCC statement.