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The Death of the Mobile Phone Antenna


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 via traditional FM. 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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