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NAB Labs: FM Capability in Smartphones Rises

Preliminary data covers first-half of 2014

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With the release of the NextRadio smartphone app now preloaded on some 30 devices, NAB Labs is seeing progress on the availability of FM in devices compared to two years ago. However, data obtained by NAB Labs from Strategy Analytics and ABI Research shows that while FM chips have been present in nearly all of the top-selling smartphones in the U.S. in the past two years, their software and hardware integration levels still varies.

NAB Labs is tracking what it characterizes as the top-selling 70%, representing the top 20 to 25 models sold in a typical quarter.

FM radio receivers found in smartphones are typically bundled with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on a “connectivity” chip.

NAB is finding three categories of FM “enablement” in smartphones: 1) the FM receiver hardware is onboard, but not enabled, 2) the FM receiver is enabled and connected, accessible to a native app in the phone OS and 3) the FM receiver is enabled and connected, accessible to a native app and to third-party apps via API.

In category #3, hybrid radio capability can be enabled with an app that can combine content received off-air using the FM receiver with text and graphics using the smartphone’s broadband connection feeding resources corresponding to the FM station the app is tuned to.

By NAB Labs’ tabulation, in the first half of 2014, the phones described by category #1 still accounted for 69% of the top-selling smartphones in the U.S. However, that number is down from 74% in the calendar year 2013. Note that Apple iPhones currently account for 62% of the phones sold in this category.

Note NAB Labs was unable to obtain data for some 2% of the leading smartphones in the U.S. The remaining 29% of leading smartphones sold in the U.S. between January and June 2014 either had FM enabled by at least one U.S. carrier (18% of total sold), or the same phone models were FM-enabled in other countries (11% of total sold), according to the data.