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Is radio really the next killer app for smartphones?

It’s the rumor that won’t die. Last November the blogosphere was alive with reports that iPhones have a latent FM radio built-in, just waiting to be turned on by Apple. However, the new iPhone 4 is on the streets and there’s still no sign of that radio-in-waiting. Now AppleInsider reports on a patent application from Apple that points towards not just an FM radio but possibly an HD Radio appearing in a future iPhone.

An FM radio is already featured in the current generation iPod Nano, as well as MP3 players from competitors like SanDisk. Microsoft’s Zune even has HD Radio. But all of these devices are media players only, not smartphones. As of yet there are no major smartphones available from a US carrier that have FM radios.

According to a recent consumer survey, that might be a major oversight on the part of manufacturers. Research firm Vision Critical asked more than 4,000 adults what missing feature on the iPhone 4 they would most like to see, and an FM tuner was the top pick when averaged across respondents from all three countries.

An FM radio was the most popular in Canada. Vision Critical senior vice-president Jeff Vidler suggests this is because streaming services like Pandora are not available in Canada and because mobile data charges are higher there.

But here in the US features like having a choice of carrier (39%), a 4G network (38%) and an eight megapixel camera (33%) were all more popular amongst respondents than an FM radio (30%). Still, the radio was more popular than a larger display or wireless syncing.

If the recent Apple patent really means an FM radio, then maybe we’ll see it in iPhone 5. If so, then I won’t be surprised if other smartphone manufacturers follow. It’s also possible that one of Apple’s competitors will try to beat them to the punch.

Actually, with the new AT&T data caps pouring some cold water on streaming music to the iPhone I’m more convinced of how desirable an FM tuner would be to the average consumer than I would have been a month ago.

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One Response to Is radio really the next killer app for smartphones?

  1. Greg July 1, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    “The Dark Secret iBiquity Doesn’t Want You to Know”

    “Hot in the news is a new patent application from Apple for what has been portrayed as HD Radio capability in iPods or possibly even iPhones. What’s left out of the news is one important point: We’re talking about an accessory here – not a core functional piece of the iPod hardware. That’s abundantly clear from the title of Apple’s application and completely missed by most of the radio industry trades.”

    It’s amazing that no one took the time to read the title of the patent. It is only an updated version of a 2008/2009 patent that concerns accessories (only) that stream digital RDS information, such as HD and analog FM, for tagging purposes:

    Think of the remote Gigaware HD Radio accessory.

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