Sunday, August 30, 2015

FM Radio on your Phone

FM Radio on your Phone

If you are ever looking for an example of special interests preventing us from having useful services, here is one that really irritates me.

Did you know that there is an FM radio receiver in your phone?  But you can’t use it. 

I suspect many of your first thoughts is “Who cares.”  I have an app that is much more customizable and user friendly. I can create personalized playlists, find new artists, and so on.

But there are a lot of advantages of the direct FM signal.

FM radio doesn’t use your data allocation. If you never hit your limit anywhere you might not care about this one, but it is nice to know you can listen all day without any concern.

FM radio works when the power goes out (the tenth anniversary of hurricane Katrina should make the importance of this obvious).  FEMA wants to unlock your phone for this reason alone, but they haven’t been able to.

The FM signal works in a lot places where your cell signal drops out. 

FM radio is local. Listening supports local businesses (the stations and the advertisers), so if you support eating local or buying local campaigns, this one is for you.

What irritates me the most is that these chips are already in our phones.  The reason we don’t have them is that the service providers keep the chips turned off.  They won’t turn them on, even if you ask.  The app companies (Spotify, Apple) want to force you to rely on their services.  The cell service providers want you to use up your data allocation.  It is pure selfishness.

There is one solution. A company called NextRadio created an app that unlocks the radio receiver.  I don’t know enough about the technology, but it works of the cell phone service goes along.  It just works on Android. At first, only Sprint went along.  Now, I think all service providers (or at least all the main ones) accept it.  So if you have an Android phone you can unlock your FM receiver.

The app also creates a reasonably good user interface.  It can’t do what Spotify et al can do because you are limited by the available FM stations.  But searching and navigating are easier. I am not here to promote this particular app, but as a user experience designer I have to at least make a note of it.