Apple responds that it can’t activate imaginary FM radios that iPhones don’t have

Had Apple turned on the FM radios hidden inside every iPhone, it might have been life-saving for many people stuck during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that damaged parts of the United States, including Florida and Texas, and Caribbean islands like Barbuda, Dominica, and Puerto Rico. Hence, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai in the wake of recent disasters has urged Apple Inc. to activate the FM chips in the name of public safety.

For those unaware, cell phones with activated FM chips can easily be used as radios, allowing people access to potentially life-saving information when stuck in emergency such as a major storm or black out. FM radios are an important communication channel between people affected and agencies trying to get information to them.

Pai said in a statement, “In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so.”

Some makers with FM-enabled devices include Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and LG have complied with Pai’s request. “Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so,” Pai continued.

“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,” Pai added. “I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.”

Florida Senator Bill Nelson is leading calls for mobile phone manufacturers to activate the FM radio chips embedded in nearly all smartphones. “The bottom line is consumers need critical information in times of emergency. If technologies, such as radio chips, exist that will help do that during times of emergencies, then companies should be doing everything in their power to employ their use.”



Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said, “Broadcasters are providing information on how to evacuate quickly, where flood waters are raging, how to get out of harm’s way if there’s a tornado or a hurricane. The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling.”

Apple’s rivals such as Samsung, Motorola, LG, and HTC have already started shipping phones with activated FM chips. Apple is the only major holdout.

Apparently, the radios do not exist in iPhones and haven’t for over a year now. In response to the urge made by FCC to unlock the FM radio in iPhones, Apple told TechCrunch that:

“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. 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 seemed to indicate that it had no plans to enable FM radio on older phones either, saying that the iPhone already includes other safety features. The company has not revealed exactly why it keeps the radio disabled though some suggest if the transmitter was activated, iPhone owners would be able to listen to local radio stations for free. This would mean losing on Apple’s internet radio service, Apple Music, subscribers that require a paid subscription.

Whatever be the real reason for not activating FM radio on iPhones, there is no doubt that this feature could help many of its iPhone users in time of emergency.