When Insight Research personnel went into consumer electronics stores to ask whether they had cell phones that contained working FM chips, they experienced many of the same things consumers do when they inquire about HD Radio receivers: varying knowledge by CE salespeople about the features of the devices they’re selling.
That’s one of the things I gleaned from reading the FASTROAD report released this week by NAB, which commissioned the study.
To be clear, in the report researchers describe them as “FM-enabled” cell phones; but what they mean is there’s an FM chip in the unit that is activated and works so that the consumer can listen to FM radio on their device.
Researchers looked at mobile phones offered by T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint/Nextel and other carriers in 2009. They say in the report that T-Mobile offers a “relatively robust lineup of phones” that include FM radio in the handset. At one store, three T-Mobile phones included the feature, but it wasn’t mentioned on the display card for the products.
“Store checks indicated that some sales reps were more familiar with the FM feature than others. Sales clerks were savvy enough to realize that the consumer was looking for music on the phone and that FM radio was only one means to provide it,” wrote the Insight folks. The salespeople were quick to point out, they continued, that there are other ways to get music and that the consumer should not limit their selection to just the three phones with that feature.
When checking on AT&T phones, which also include models with FM, sales staff couldn’t tell the researchers how to enable the feature.
And this caught my eye. In their store checks, the first response to a question about FM radio was a description of Pandora.com. The store personnel were very familiar with the Pandora music service and “eager to sell a higher priced data plan” that included Pandora.
Researchers pointed out to salespeople that certain models on display had FM receiver chips in the unit, based on Insight’s review of manufacturer specs. The sales reps looked through information the manufacturers gave them but could find no reference to the FM feature.
After visiting an AT&T store, researchers called LG and were able to get instructions for how to find the FM feature, which was also described in the manual. They also tried this with AT&T technical support, but said they couldn’t get instructions on how to access the FM feature.
The response at the Sprint/Nextel store was similar. The sales rep was very familiar with Android applications that could stream the content from specific FM radio stations, however the in-store reps were not aware that the EVO 4G had the FM radio feature integrated in the device, reported the researchers.
Verizon offers fewer models with FM; its first models with the FM feature were the HTC Touch, Diamond, Samsung Omnia II and the LG Chocolate VX8575, all introduced in 2009. Microsoft introduced the “Kin” line this May, which Insight says were FM-enabled, made by Sharp and picked up by Verizon. However Microsoft dropped the project after about six weeks and researchers estimated sales of “Kin” to be about 500 units.
Consumers have trouble accessing the FM radio feature in their existing device, the report concludes, as many carriers neither promote the feature during the sales process nor provide instructions on use during post sale support. Most cell phones require an FM antenna in order for the FM radio icon to appear in the menu.
The consumer must plug in a pair of headphones that will act as the antenna. Users that rely on a Bluetooth earpiece will not have the correct antenna attached to the cell phone. In many cases, the headphones are an additional accessory that is not included with the device and must be purchased separately, according to Insight. Unless the consumer buys the headphones and attaches them to the phone, they may never see that the FM radio is available, state the researchers.
This kind of information often is buried in the manufacturers’ instructions; if radio does work with the wireless carriers to promote the FM radio feature, as the researchers suggest, this kind of instruction would be good to include in a “quick start” guide that’s short and easy to follow.