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NAB Labs: FM in Smartphone Availability “Complex” for Consumers

Are consumers confused about radio in smartphones?

Earlier this week, we reported NAB Labs research for the first half of the year found smartphone models that include an embedded FM chip that is not activated still accounted for 69% of the top-selling smartphones in the U.S.

While that number is dropping and the sales of smartphones that do include an embedded and activated FM chip is on the rise, consumer confusion still reigns.

While some smartphone models may have an FM chip that is activated, the wireless carrier that sells that model may not chose to promote that feature; that’s why sometimes overseas users of a certain model can use the FM feature but not U.S. users, according to the research.

An example is the Samsung Galaxy series. The Galaxy S3, one of the most popular smartphones in 2012, had enabled FM capability outside the U.S., but the same model sold by multiple carriers in the U.S. were not promoting the feature, according to NAB Labs. The FM capability was removed from its successor, the S4, and Samsung reinstated FM capability in the Galaxy S5. This version has FM activated both internationally and in Sprint’s domestic U.S. version, which includes the preloaded NextRadio app.

However FM capability is not available to U.S. users who buy the S5 from AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, according to the research.

The domestic situation is slightly different with the HTC One M8. It is one of now 30 smartphone models that come with the NextRadio FM app preloaded on Sprint-sold devices. On models sold by AT&T, the model is equipped with an enabled FM receiver that’s accessible to a native app in the phone’s operating system. Verizon, meanwhile, doesn’t promote the FM capability in the models it sells, according to NAB Labs.

However AT&T and Verizon customers can download the NextRadio app to the HTC M8 from an Android app store.

NAB Labs concludes that while it’s clear the FM radio in smartphone environment remains “complex and confusing” for U.S. consumers, the growth in sales of FM-capable smartphones provides evidence there is demand for the feature, and the Sprint/NextRadio alliance is having a “significant” effect. NAB Labs plans to present a paper on the topic as part of the Broadcast Engineering Conference at NAB 2015.