FM Radio in Smartphones

We track the sales and capabilities of the top-selling smartphones sold in the U.S. – which we define as the upper 70 percent of U.S. sales – typically equating to approximately the 20 most popular phone models of the day. We explore the internal design of these phones to determine their FM reception capabilities. The chart below shows the most recent data available (third quarter of 2016). This data indicates that nearly all of the 24 million top-selling smartphones sold in the U.S. during that period were equipped with an FM radio tuner, yet FM reception was activated for users (by at least one major carrier) in only 44 percent (10.8 million) of those phones.

This means that nearly half of the phones sold during this period do not have FM radio reception activated, although almost all of them do have the potential capability to receive FM radio. Of these FM-capable but non-activated devices, the vast majority (94 percent) were Apple iPhones.

Why does it matter? Americans are consuming more audio and video on the go than ever before. Smartphones and tablets have become walking entertainment centers. But the convenience of on-the-go entertainment can carry a hefty price tag for consumers, given that most service providers charge for wireless data by the bit. With FM radio capability, a mobile device user doesn’t have to stream audio, but receives it over the air for free – with up to six times less battery drain than streaming requires. And during crisis situations when cellular networks can go down, over-the-air radio stays on.

The chart below shows how sales of FM-activated smartphones have grown over time.

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