FCC chairman Ajit Pai demanded that Apple enable FM radio tuners in iPhones. But there’s one significant detail Apple was keeping to itself: iPhones—at least the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 8—don’t have FM radio chips.
Pai framed his request around the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and his belief that FM radio access could be invaluable to those looking for help. “When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information,” he wrote in a public statement.
Almost every smartphone has an FM radio built inside, but manufacturers have historically deactivated the chips. Carriers and phone makers feared users would listen to the radio instead of connecting to a mobile network to stream music, therefore decreasing data demands and hurting services like Apple Music and YouTube.
The hysteria has died down in recent years, and most companies including Samsung, LG, and Motorola are now selling handsets with the FM tuner enabled. But Apple hasn’t followed suit, and Pai isn’t giving up.
“It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it,'” Pai wrote.
But there is no switch. Apple responded to Pai’s request by explaining why it isn’t possible to fulfill and assured that its own “modern” safety measures are effective in emergency situations.
“Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products,” the company said in a statement. “Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”
Apple did not comment on why it chose to remove the FM tuner, or whether it would enable it in pre-iPhone 7 devices.
FM radios can serve as a lifeline to people in need of help after an emergency. As photos of Irma showed, strong hurricanes are capable of destroying cell towers, potentially shutting down cellular services for months. FM and AM frequencies are more efficient and can be picked up from dozens of miles away from a radio station. The information transmitted on FM radio—like where to get donations or dangerous areas to avoid—could be life-saving.
H/T Ars Technica