from the it's-a-bit-unlocked dept.
Samsung says it will be unlocking the FM chips in its future smartphones:
Samsung and NextRadio on Wednesday announced the handset-maker will begin shipping phones in the US and Canada with the FM radio chip unlocked. Currently, Samsung was shipping some devices with the FM radio access unlocked, while others (often dependent upon carrier whims) had a locked FM radio chip.
An unlocked FM radio chip in a smartphone not only provides free access to local radio stations, but also, in emergency situations, access to important information.
What is NextRadio?
Emmis Communications is an American media conglomerate based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company owns radio stations and magazines in the United States and Slovakia.
[...] The NextRadio smartphone app was developed by Emmis, with support from the National Association of Broadcasters, to take advantage of mobile devices with activated internal FM receivers. NextRadio allows users of select FM-enabled smartphones to listen to live broadcast FM radio while receiving supplemental data such as album art, program information, and metadata over the internet. Launched in August 2013 through a radio industry agreement with Sprint Corporation, the app is available preloaded on select devices it is also available for download in the Google Play Store.
Do you need to use their app to access the FM chip? The press release says:
Market leaders like Samsung are taking the step of unlocking the FM Chip, which will allow Samsung users to connect directly with the NextRadio app, listen to their favorite local stations, and use less battery and less data than streaming radio apps.
Take "unlocked" with a grain of salt.
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The reason why FM receivers are present on smartphones is that they can be used to locate your position by noting a simple thing as signal strength of transmitters. More advanced methods makes use of SNR, frequency deviation and multipath interference characteristics. And the same method can be used for WiFi which of course makes collection of such data very useful for localization purposes where GPS etc isn't useful. Arrival time of a radio signal that is reported to the operator from many devices may also be used for the same purpose.
Silviu Stahie reports via Softpedia
Many of the new SoC solutions [...] have FM Radio functionalities, but Google doesn't provide any kind of API for Android devices. It's basically just something that some companies could implement if they had the time or the drive to do it properly.
[...] Most [...] things are usually difficult when [they haven't] been done before. It's true that Radio FM functions have been available on older devices, but modern devices are not doing it, so there is little to no documentation on how to proceed.
A developer from the community is now working to get this function working on Ubuntu phones, and he's already enlisted the help of the Ubuntu developers. As it turns out, this has been talked about before, but for now, it's not a high priority.
Some of the Ubuntu phones, like the two BQ devices that are now available on the market, have Mediatek hardware and they are capable for[sic] Radio FM functions--at least in theory. What's more interesting, is that they should also be able to transmit, not only to receive.
"MediaTek (Aquaris E4.5 and E5) decided to implement custom kernel drivers with a custom character device (/dev/fm) and custom ioctl commands. There seem to be userspace libraries (libfm*) including a JNI wrapper in /system/lib of the Android container on our Ubuntu phones", developer sturmflut wrote on the official mailing list.
The ideal situation would be to allow users to initialize and tune the FM radio on the Aquaris E4.5 and E5 devices and to link this functionality to the media hub. It will take a while, but it's quite possible that FM Radio will be one of the numerous features that you can only find in Ubuntu phones.
Last Summer, Jack Wallen at TechRepublic reported:
[More after the break.]
Norway is set to become the first nation to start switching off its FM radio network next week, in a risky and unpopular leap to digital technology that will be closely watched by other countries considering whether to follow suit.
Critics say the government is rushing the move and many people may miss warnings on emergencies that have until now been broadcast via the radio. Of particular concern are the two million cars on Norway's roads that are not equipped with digital audio broadcasting (DAB) receivers, they say.
Sixty-six per cent of Norwegians oppose switching off FM, with just 17 per cent in favour and the rest undecided, according to an opinion poll published by the daily Dagbladet last month.
Nevertheless, parliament gave the final go-ahead for the move last month, swayed by the fact that digital networks can carry more radio channels.
Should there be a push to switch off FM radio in order to 'persuade' users to upgrade their receiving equipment? Or should the change be implemented much more slowly to enable FM radios to be replaced as they age? How would you do it?
In a speech given to the Future of Radio and Audio Symposium (PDF), Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai encouraged smartphone makers to activate FM radio chips, but stopped short of supporting a government mandate to do so:
As you know, the vast majority of smartphones sold in the United States do, in fact, contain FM chips. The problem is that most of them aren't activated. As of last fall, only about 44% of the topselling smartphones in the United States have activated FM chips, and the percentage is lower in Canada. By comparison, in Mexico that number is about 80%. So it's not just that the United States and Canada could be doing better. We could be doing a lot better. It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don't enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman.
You could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone. The former head of our Federal Emergency Management Administration has spoken out in support of this proposal. The FCC has an expert advisory panel on public safety issues that has also advocated enabling FM radio chips on smartphones. It pointed out that, "[h]aving access to terrestrial FM radio broadcasts, as opposed to streaming audio services, may enable smartphone users to receive broadcast-based EAS alerts and other vital information in emergency situations—particularly when the wireless network is down or overloaded."
Moreover, most consumers would love to access some of their favorite content over-the-air, while using one-sixth of the battery life and less data. As more and more Americans use activated FM chips in their smartphones, consumer demand for smartphones with activated FM chips should continue to increase.
I'll keep speaking out about the benefits of activating FM chips. Having said that, as a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips. I don't believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it's best to sort this issue out in the marketplace. For despite the low numbers, we are seeing progress; in the last two years, the percentage of top-selling smartphones in the United States that have activated FM chips has risen from less than 25% to 44%.
Apple responded today to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who issued a statement that "urged" Apple to activate the FM chips that he claimed are in iPhones in the name of public safety. The recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were the hook for the reasoning. The only problem? Apple hasn't even included FM radio chips in iPhones since the iPhone 6s.
That's right, Pai called on Apple to activate radios that don't even exist.
As John Gruber astutely points out, the statement has the stink of trying to shift blame or attention off of the FCC's own response and readiness issues. Pai has been banging the drum for months now and it's been a talking point of the NAB for years. When ostensibly asked for comment by Bloomberg, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said "The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling." Again, the radios do not exist in iPhones and haven't for over a year now.