Android Growth, Stubborn Apple: FM Chip Update Is a Mixed Bag

NAB technologists report an expanding number of Android devices but are keeping an eye on no-chip models and stubborn Apple
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Most major wireless carriers have now moved to activate the FM chips in their Android smartphones, according to technologists at the National Association of Broadcasters.

But, they continue, the lack of embrace from Apple puts a practical limit on how much growth FM chip advocates can expect. And they also are keeping an eye on a small but concerning trend worth watching.

The info comes from Pilot, the tech arm of the National Association of Broadcasters formerly called NAB Labs. It tracks FM radio receiver capabilities in U.S. smartphones via sales and teardown analysis of the most popular models. In a blog and newsletter post, it provides its latest results from three years of data-keeping.

“As the figure [above right] indicates, the number of smartphones in which FM reception capability is fully activated by at least one carrier (shown in blue on the stacked columns) has been growing steadily over the three years during which Pilot has tracked the data,” they wrote. (Click on these graphs to see larger versions on the Pilot website.)

They did however note the appearance of a small number of top-selling smartphones that have no FM chips at all, shown in red in the above graphic. Pilot called these a small exception, with other smartphones continuing to include an FM receiver as part of their connectivity chip. “Nevertheless, it is a critical market element that Pilot will continue to observe closely.”

Pilot also updated numbers for FM chips in Android smartphones. Although only Sprint’s activity in this area shows up so far (second chart), recent commitments by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon should start showing up soon.

However, Pilot also frankly addressed the lack of embrace from Apple of the dormant FM capability in its smartphones. “Given that Pilot’s sales data shows that about half of every quarter’s sales of new phones are accounted for by various iPhone models … this implies that unless and until Apple changes its policy, FM activation in smartphones can never exceed about 50% penetration in the U.S.”

They commented that Apple includes “an excellent FM receiver” in its iPod Nano products, “so the company clearly has the resources and expertise to implement such capabilities should it wish to do so.”

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