It used to be standard, in the ancient pre-iPod era of early MP3 players. Apple omitted FM reception from all versions of the iPod and iPhone, a fact we’ve complained about repeatedly. Because those products established a specification template for other handhelds, terrestrial radio has fallen out of mobile. There’s no lack of music in mobile, obviously, but there’s no point excluding radio. Apple’s decision seemed arbitrary at the time, and still seems so in retrospect, even in today’s app-saturated mobile ecosystem.
The Emmis-owned NextRadio-plus-TagStation solution has gained ground, available in some Sprint phones. It’s not a pure solution — users must activate reception via the downloaded TagStation app, which enhances the FM stream with added content (song info, album art, etc.) from participating stations. That’s a little cumbersome, even as it adds value, but at least the package convinced Sprint to activate the FM chip that is silently built into most smartphones.
Nokia provides activated chips in one of its phones also (the Lumia 925).
Now BlackBerry, the once-dominant, now-beleaguered phone maker, has updated its BB10 unit (that’s the phone with a physical keyboard) with an activated FM chip. That’s nice for BlackBerry’s small audience, but obviously won’t have the impact we’d see if Samsung added FM reception to its Galaxy line, for example. (We hold out no hope for Apple.)
So while BlackBerry’s announcement isn’t a boulder crashing into the pond, it is another pebble in a gently building trend to put FM back into the mobile experience. Recently, heads of two public radio networks made a public call for handset makers to activate their in-built radio chips. If for no other reason: Why the heck not?