what i want, i can’t have

Smart phones and pornography share a trait; they are both masterful at the main event, as it were, but lack in the older graces.

I have yet to find a smart phone that is a really, really good phone, a thing for talking into and listening to. Maybe it’s the network, I dunno, but I have trouble hearing the person at the other end. I’m sure they use all sorts of fancy algorithms to figure out what the bare minimum is you need in order to distinguish between the sound of mom’s voice and your office co-worker, and you get that much bandwidth and no more. In this way the phone company saves bandwidth and your cell phone bill is reduced by a generous amount every month. No?

So what else can’t your smart phone do? Well…it can’t be a radio. Actually, it can be a radio. Smart phones have f.m. radio chips built in. It’s just that for some reason the big cell phone carriers don’t seem very interested in turning them on, or adding the software or whatever it is they have to do. My guess is they would say it’s a case of low consumer demand. They would say that while you’re burning through your very expensive monthly data plan streaming Pandora or your local public radio station or some other radio-like thing.

The generally impotent broadcast industry is Fighting! Back! with a web site sure to attract the cool kids called “Radio Rocks My Phone,” which strikes me as being a bit wide of the mark of who is most likely to care about having a radio in their phone, namely, older people. The saddest part of the web site is the list of phones and carriers that do carry f.m. – it’s tiny, and was last updated a year ago. (Yes, I know about the Sprint deal and Emmis and the rest, and I’m rooting for them. But I’m a realist.)

Were I a betting man, I would bet that the cell phone carriers – not wanting something genuinely free on their pocket-sized tollbooths – have dragged their feet up until now, but will acquiesce in the near future, in the expectation they’ll be able to start getting content providers to pony up some of the bandwidth cost in exchange for favored status on your phone. At that point, the NPRs and ClearChannels of the world will have a dilemma: keep fighting for “legacy” f.m. service, or go all in on what they’re helping to pay for – and what little momentum there is to get radio on all carriers will wobble off the rails. Hope I’m wrong.

(Extra points: my carrier, Verizon, appears to carry exactly zero phones with f.m. capability, unless the Nokia 822 did get f.m. in its last update, as was rumored. I don’t see a mention of it in the phone’s specs. That would mean my three year old HTC Trophy running Windows Phone 7 is the de facto flagship – well, only ship – in the fleet of Verizon f.m.- enabled cell phones.)

(Extra, extra points: the Verizon HTC 8X, which I have access to, may have gotten f.m. in last summer’s update. If so, it brings Verizon’s fleet of f.m. phones to a mighty two or even three. Of course, they’re Windows phones, which most people don’t even know exist, but whatever.)


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