Turn on iPhone FM radio chips, urges FCC. But iPhone 7, 8 don't have any, says Apple

Apple is under pressure to "light up" the FM radio alleged to be present in the iPhone.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The FCC argues that having FM enabled on the iPhone could be a life-saver during natural disasters. (Image: James Martin/CNET)

Following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Apple is facing renewed calls to activate the iPhone's FM radio, which the Cupertino company says is technically impossible.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has backed a call by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) for Apple to activate the FM chips thought to be in the iPhone.

Pai and the NAB argue that having FM enabled on the iPhone could be a life-saver during natural disasters that takes out cell towers and broadband.

As the FCC notes in its latest report on Hurricane Maria, 90 percent of mobile towers in Puerto Rico are down. Many wireline services are also down, but some TV and radio stations remain operational.

"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. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones," he said

"Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That's why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones.

"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.'"

The theory goes that Apple could activate FM radio on a communications chip inside the iPhone, but it hasn't because it wants users to stream music instead.

Earlier this year, Pai urged all smartphone makers to activate FM radio, but he didn't specifically mention the iPhone. However, the regulation-averse commissioner said he wouldn't force manufactures to activate an FM radio.

"NAB salutes FCC Chairman Pai for his strong support for voluntary activation of FM radio chips in Apple iPhones. Local broadcasters are a lifeline information source in times of crisis," said NAB president and CEO, Gordon Smith.

"We urge Apple to acknowledge the public safety benefits of local broadcasting on SmartPhones and to light up the FM chip," he added.

However, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 don't have a FM radio chip to turn on or the right antennas, Apple said in a statement to MacRumors.

"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," the company said.

"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."

As noted by Daring Fireball author John Gruber, Pai's announcement regarding Apple comes as the FCC faces criticism for shortcomings in its response to the trio of hurricanes.

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