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HD Radio smartphone prototype lands with a thud

Remember that HD Radio enabled smartphone set to debut at the National Association of Broadcasters show last week? There was hoopla–mostly in the industry–leading up to the show. And, then, radio silence.

I looked for news reports all last week and didn’t find a thing. Only a NAB email newsletter sent this week brought any info, followed by an April 17 Radio World article that somehow Google failed to deliver to me until the 25th.

Turns out, the smartphone prototype did actually get revealed to what the NAB calls “a jam-packed press conference.” The phone itself runs the popular Android mobile OS, with an HD Radio app that pairs with an HD Radio chip developed by Intel. The app brings in song, album and artist information for what’s playing using the TagStation and “Artist Experience” systems. In addition the app features “an enhanced HD Radio ad experience,” to deliver what every smartphone user wants more of: interactive ads and coupons.

HD Radio app's song display and sharing features

Of course, the real trick will be getting any wireless carriers to get on board. Many Android phones already have analog FM radios built-in. Given the tepid public response to HD Radio I have hard time seeing a groundswell of demand for adding HD to the mix. The so-called enhancements that the HD Radio app offers are pretty mundane compared to Pandora or Spotify which have been offering artist data and interactive ads since they first hit an app store. I especially don’t see Apple adopting HD Radio, which leaves out 32% of US smartphone owners from the get-go.

Nevertheless, this won’t stop the NAB and iBiquity from trying to get their HD foot in the door. The NAB recently opened to help build the case. The front page of the site currently declares that “3 out of 4 Americans not only want radio in their smartphones, they’d pay for it!” Interestingly, there’s no mention of HD Radio anywhere on the site, perhaps indicating that the NAB knows it’s a likely dead end.

3 out of 4 Americans want radio in their smartphones

As a radio lover, I fully support more smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers adding radios to their handsets. As I’ve mentioned before, I like the FM radio in my HTC EVO Android phone, and wish my iPhone also sported a radio. But also as an occasional HD Radio listener, I don’t buy that there’s much value to be added including the digital service. Like the HD Radio technology itself, the smartphone initiative is a case of too little, too late.

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