no, microsoft, no

Somehow I missed the dismal news that Microsoft has axed its FM radio app from Windows 10 Mobile.

A Microsoft spokesman told Radio World, “Due to decreased usage, FM Radio was removed in a recent Windows 10 Mobile build released to Windows Insiders, and will likely be removed for general customers in a future update.”

The good news, such as it is, is that the FM chip will remain activated in Windows phones. That means third party FM tuner apps will continue to work. The rest is bad news. Here’s why:

The Windows phone platform failed. It has less than five percent of smartphone users worldwide, and no matter what Microsoft has tried that number doesn’t improve. In fact, in the U.S. it’s gone backwards. However, I’d argue that people who follow smartphone development continue to pay disproportionate attention to Windows phones, and as long as FM was part of the base operating system,  there was a small, persistent reminder that FM is important to some people and should be considered for other more popular (i.e. Android and iOS) platforms.

More to the point, the FM tuner was a place for radioheads like me to rally, something we could point to, to show having “real” radio in a cellphone is a desirable feature. My guess is Microsoft’s announcement will undermine efforts like the Free Radio on My Phone campaign and make it easier for the holdout carrier, Verizon, to continue dragging its feet when it comes to activating the FM chip in Android phones.

I went to great lengths to get an Android phone (the only one Verizon offers) with FM radio; I use it at least three or four times a week for at least half an hour at a time, and often more. Yes, it competes for my attention with audiobooks, podcasts and music I’ve downloaded. But the point is, it is competing – I still choose to use regular, broadcast radio for a fair amount of my listening.

And what is a choice for me is a necessity elsewhere. A comment on an mspoweruser  article about the removal:

I know it’s difficult for some people in the western hemisphere and specifically the U.S. to understand but having an fm radio receiver is vital in some parts of the world or a necessity. How do you access now your local radio station in a rural or remote location.. Not only that you don’t use data, but you have radio coverage even in some places where cellular reception is bad. For India and even certain parts of Europe this is a bad move.

Let me point out that’s not the same as the marginal “in an emergency, access to radio could save your life” argument used sometimes to bolster the case for activating the FM chip. That argument says ‘Here’s an edge case, one for which we have no actual real world examples but which sounds good.’ The argument above says ‘Radio is part of every day life in most of the world. Anything you can do to delivery it cheaply and cheerfully is good.’

Mind you, I think having the radio chip turned on would be good in an emergency, but…that’s not enough.

And I would be remiss not to spread much of the blame on the radio industry itself; radio is seen as less essential on phones because it is, well, less essential. You take 20-30 years of reducing formats to the lowest common denominator, dumping most or all local programming, turning the commercial load up to 11 and no wonder so many people lost interest, or never got it in the first place.



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