05/12

The Death of the Mobile Phone Antenna

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So the hot rumor about the forthcoming iPhone 7 is that it will lose something that has so far been taken for granted.

I’m talking about the headphone jack.

No headphone jack means no place to plug in your earbuds, headphones, or stereo cable.

That means the audio will transmit wirelessly, and that most irritating of mobile phone nuisances – the easily tangled and easily ripped-from-your-ear cord – will be a thing of the past.

According to one source:

…the iPhone 7 will ship with Bluetooth EarPods that pair and charge with the device through the Lightning port just like the Apple Pencil does with iPad Pros.

While it will be possible to plug headphones into the Lightning port, the notion that the iPhone may ship with Bluetooth EarPods (a.k.a. “AirPods”) strongly reflects a shift in the way Apple believes consumers will connect their ears to their devices. And that shift is away from wires.

One of the most memorable moments in my work with satellite radio was the response of one millennial when handed a satellite radio and its various accessories. He studied the pile in his hands quizzically, then looked up and asked one question: “Wires?”

This is the wireless age, folks. Bid your confining cables adieu!

One of the reasons why wires matter to folks in the radio industry is that those wires serve as an antenna for those mobile phones which contain activated FM chips. If you get rid of the antenna, you effectively disable the device’s ability to receive radio via traditional FM.

If you get rid of the antenna, you effectively disable the device's ability to receive radio… Click To Tweet

Even the NextRadio site includes this Q&A in their FAQ:

Why do I need headphones to use NextRadio?

Smartphones do not currently have a built-in antenna, so NextRadio uses the cord from your headphones or a stereo cable as the antenna to tune local FM radio signals. The app features the option to output audio to the phone’s speaker if you’d rather not listen through headphones, but the cord must remain plugged in to receive FM signals.

Now for the record, Apple is not one of the devices that currently works with NextRadio anyway, so this change – if it comes to pass – will have no effect on NextRadio.

But, there’s a larger trend here, and that trend is unquestionably to move beyond wires, beyond cables, and beyond antennae.

Is it only a matter of time before a wireless connection between your ears and your phone becomes commonplace? Well, frankly, it’s already commonplace. The genie is out of the bottle on this one, gang.

So the lesson for folks in the radio space is this: Never bet on any dated technology to survive into novel technological forms, whether it be mobile phones or auto dashboards. Especially if advancements make it possible for consumer nuisances to be eliminated. And nothing is more of a nuisance than a knotty set of earbud wires.

As I have long argued, technology moves in only one direction. To the degree that you are in the content business your job is to get that content in front of consumers wherever they are and however they want to hear it.

All the rest is a business model puzzle.

Puzzle it out.

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  • Paul Brenner

    Hi Mark, the points in the article are clearly written by someone that does not work in the smartphone hardware business and is therefore not really capable of anything more than an opinion based on website search results. An opinion from someone not well informed with enough insider information to be accurate about the future potential of an internal FM antenna. Content is important, I agree, but distribution technology will always change and adapt.

  • Haywood

    I am not sure this is accurate or fact based. The rumor about the iPhone 7 removing the 3.5MM has been swirling for months without any real indication or proof that it will happen. Also, there has not been indication from any of the other device manufactures that they will be removing the 3.5MM jack anytime soon.

    Thanks for sharing Mark.

  • Paul are you arguing that mobile phones will be made with internal antennae? Is that true today? Not according to the NextRadio FAQ. Please clarify.
    Mark Ramsey

  • The noise is getting louder about this, Eric. Google the noise and see for yourself.
    But in the long run I see a future without wires, don’t you?

    Mark Ramsey

  • Paul Brenner

    Hi Mark, internal FM antennas are not a new concept. Motorola Rokr phones originally shipped with an internal antenna. I know because I owned one. For people that have the right global relationships in the semi-conductor sector, we know sources that make internal FM antennas for smartphones. The challenge is not do they exist or can they be made, rather the question is can the work of FM broadcasters in the US and around the world prove a business case through user adoption and demand. NextRadio would be foolish not to looking out ahead and to not be working to solve for this situation.

  • Of course. That’s why I didn’t suggest you were NOT looking ahead. I argued that the future is a wireless one because that’s what consumers want and that’s what technology will make possible. Thanks for the comments Paul.
    Mark Ramsey

  • Russell

    Apple’s philosophy seems to be less is more, which works in the majority of cases but not when it comes to removing FM radio which is extremely important during an emergency. Mobile phone calls and data fail in emergencies. Sure, technology is moving forward, but until new technology can communicate effectively during an emergency, there is still a need for FM radio. Why can’t Apple use an internal FM antenna?

  • See my comment to your other post, Russell.

  • Russell

    Fortunately the majority of consumers seem to be favouring smartphones WITH headphone jacks and FM receivers. http://nabpilot.org/fm-chip-activation-in-smartphones-continues-to-climb/

  • Russell you are on a mission to prove a point that only the broadcast community is desperate to prove and using deceptive data to do so. “FM radio activated by at least one major carrier using these phones”. That is a meaningless statistic
    Mark Ramsey

  • As I have shown in my own data consumers are choosing devices for other reasons and are largely indifferent to the presence of FM because they’re not looking for this from their phones. This back and forth is becoming tiresome
    Mark Ramsey

  • Russell

    The point I am trying to prove is that FM is needed during emergencies, and it is wrong to disable it in smartphones. On reviewing that table, I should not have said consumers are favouring smartphones with headphone jacks and FM receivers, because you are right, its for other reasons. However it seems there is an increasing trend of carriers reversing their decisions to disable the FM receiver, something that should not have been done in the first place.

  • But this makes no sense. FM existed before smartphones. What is it about smartphones that requires the inclusion of FM? Why is an FM-enabled smartphone any more consumer-oriented than an FM-enabled toaster or refrigerator? This whole issue is a straw man argument designed to perpetuate the lifetime value of fields of transmitters.

  • Russell, this is the last time I’m going to respond to you on this topic. This is your tenth comment on it, by my count, and that seems like plenty.
    The fact that everybody owns smartphones does not mean any one industry’s pet project should be grafted onto it. I travel with shoes everywhere I go but I don’t hear you lobbying for shoes to come with FM radio. This stems directly from the radio industry’s fear that as listening moves digital the audience will spend less time on traditional FM or AM radio, as the Nielsen data indicates is certainly the case.
    But this has nothing to do with what consumers want to use or to buy. I have actually done research to determine the degree to which FM built-in is an influencer in the way consumers choose mobile phones. The result: It isn’t.
    As for FEMA, they are responding to broadcast industry pressure. Because despite the YouTube video you list here (posted, I might add, by a shell organization affiliated with the NextRadio crowd), FEMA is doubling down on digital alert technology (Wireless Emergency Alerts).
    Finally, the idea that a rare crisis that knocks out all other technology – the Walking Dead scenario – reduces the idea of radio to the status of the EBS. And the folks I know – including me – are not working in radio to make it a better carrier for EBS.
    That’s my final word. Thank you for yours!

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