New data from the second quarter of this year shows that a record number of smartphones with their FM reception capability enabled were sold in the U.S. during the period.
Since 2012, PILOT has tracked the sales and FM capabilities of top-selling smartphones in the U.S., which we define as the top 70% of the devices sold. This usually equates to around 20-25 smartphone models, representing the lion’s share of U.S. sales during any quarterly period. We evaluate these phones through teardown and sales analysis, to verify their FM reception capabilities.
For 2Q16, U.S. sales of these leading smartphones in which at least one carrier has fully activated FM radio reception hit 12.7 million units—the highest number ever recorded by PILOT—representing 46% of the total top-selling units sold during the quarter.
Another ground-breaking trend noted in the 2Q16 data shows that, for the first time since PILOT has been tracking these sales, Apple iPhone sales fell below 50% of the total. This is significant because Apple has never activated the FM receiver chips that have been included in iPhones since the 3GS model appeared in mid-2009, making the iPhone the only device that FM-receiver friendly carriers (which now include Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and others) have not been able to offer with FM capability.
Given that aggregate sales of iPhone models have previously exceeded 50% market share in each quarter evaluated by PILOT, however, iPhone sales falling to only ~38% of 2Q16’s top sellers represents a major shift in the Android vs. iOS market balance. Since all top-selling FM-activated smartphones are on the Android platform to date, this change is welcome news for radio broadcasters.
PILOT has also recently observed that a few smartphone models include so-called “connectivity chips” that do not include FM receivers. Typically these chips have bundled WiFi and Bluetooth transceivers along with FM radio receivers on a single chip, and such multi-function chips had been previously used by all smartphones. First detected among top-selling U.S. smartphones in late 2015, 2Q16 data shows the sales of these phones has declined somewhat and is now below 5% of total sales. PILOT will continue to monitor this situation.
Another important deviation from past norms among smartphones is the removal of the 3.5 mm headphone connector from some devices, on both the iOS and Android platforms. This is germane to the FM activation discussion because the vast majority of FM-enabled smartphones use wired headphones as the antenna for their FM reception. To date, there has been no impact detected to PILOT’s overall FM-activation results, since sales of these new phones have not yet appeared in our tracking data. PILOT will continue to observe whether removal of the 3.5 mm headphone jack becomes a broader trend among smartphones.
Also notable in recent news regarding FM activation in smartphones is Verizon’s enabling of FM reception (and NextRadio compatibility) in its version of the popular Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge devices. This marks the first time a top-selling Android smartphone has had FM capability enabled by all four major U.S. wireless carriers.
These substantial gains in FM activation that we continue to observe among top-selling U.S. smartphones show that the broadcast industry’s effort toward voluntary activation of FM capability by device manufacturers and wireless carriers is bearing fruit.