Why Microsoft’s removal of the FM tuner in their phones is our fault | radioinfo

Why Microsoft’s removal of the FM tuner in their phones is our fault

Sunday 29 May, 2016
Old fashioned Windows phone

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland.

Microsoft is removing the FM tuner app from its Windows mobile phones. According to an article in the trade press, the app has been removed from the latest development build of the OS, and it’s gone for good. So, what does this mean for radio?

It’s bad PR for us

Tech journalists don’t “get” radio. They see it as nothing new, and their assumption is that nobody listens any more (instead of the nine­out­of­ten figure in most countries). If this is reported, it carries the subtext that “Microsoft removes an old­fashioned thing from their phones”, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We’ve got ourselves to blame for the above, though. We’ve failed to care about the user experience on connected devices. An FM tuner is, when you step back, an insanely bizarre user experience: requiring people to remember random numbers between 87 and 108 to find a station. On a connected device like a mobile phone, the radio industry could make this experience much better, but we’ve mostly chosen not to. It’s the poor user experience, I believe, that is the reason why an iPhone doesn’t have an FM radio inside.

It isn’t as bad as it sounds

This isn’t the removal of FM capability from Windows Mobile phones. The FM tuner continues to be part of the Bluetooth chip inside the device, and so you’ll still be able to download FM tuner apps from the Windows app store. All that’s happening here is that there won’t be a default FM tuner app pre­installed on the phone.

This adds an extra step to get FM onto a listener’s phone. But it does foster some competition in the Windows Mobile FM tuner app space. The enterprising app maker will be able to use RadioDNS and other technologies to produce a great user experience, and get a level playing field when trying to get installations.

Windows still remains the only mobile OS with an FM receiver as standard.

It ignores the reality of the international market

According to a study in 2011, 94% of Indian radio listeners tune into (FM) radio on their mobile phone. Only 16% do so on a radio receiver. FM radio on mobiles is also popular in places like Latin America and Africa; a Firefox employee telling me that FM radio was “one of the most requested features” in those territories. It’s no surprise that the cheaper the phone becomes, the more likely it is to have access to FM radio.

By withdrawing development of their basic FM tuner app, Microsoft is essentially treating these nations as unimportant to the future of Windows on phones. That is a mistake, in my view.

Radio needs to step up

The primary argument for FM radio in cellphones is “it’s useful in times of emergency”, which is a weak and niche argument (not least because automated, networked US radio has repeatedly shown itself as relatively incapable of actually reacting at times of emergency).

I have doubts that broadcast radio inside mobiles is the white knight we think it is. We’re trying to marry the most interactive device we own with a lean­back medium that’s specifically designed to be consumed while doing something else. But that shouldn’t stop us improving that experience as much as possible.

We should be working to make the default FM tuner app an amazing experience. We should provide metadata like logos and service information to already­existing industry initiatives like RadioDNS and Emmis’s NextRadio app; and we should fund them better so they can do more. We should put into place optional service­following from FM to IP, so you never lose your favourite station. We should build FM capabilities into our own apps, working with the Universal Smartphone Project. We should capture data (like the Indians) to help argue our case in future. We should at the very least ensure that RDS is present on all our services.

But most of all, we should be singing with one voice about broadcast radio’s benefit within mobile phones: and highlighting that for Microsoft to remove an app that delivers a free feature is a bone­headed decision. 


About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist, and is Managing Director of media.info, a companion website to radioinfo and AsiaRadioToday.

He has served as a judge for a number of industry awards including the Australian ABC Local Radio Awards, the UK Student Radio Awards, and the UK’s Radio Academy Awards, where he has also served on the committee. He was a founder of the hybrid radio technology association RadioDNS.

James is one of the organisers of nextrad.io, the radio ideas conference each September, and is also on the committee of RadioDays Europe. He writes for publications including his own media.info, Radio World International and RAIN News.

James recently moved from North London to Brisbane with his partner and a two year-old radio-loving toddler. He very, very much likes beer.


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Lee Beddow
29 May 2016 - 5:29pm
I did a survey with some 16-18 yr old students recently and I was very surprised that so many used the FM app on their phones. The reason for this is it doesn't eat up valuable data which other radio apps do, which I hadn't considered before - something worth thinking about
Eugene Delargy
30 May 2016 - 9:23am
Current model Blackberry 10 phones have an excellent built in tuner. Have done so for years.
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