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Apple just schooled the FCC on iPhones

Published Sep 29th, 2017 7:45AM EDT
iPhone FM Radio
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

The Federal Communications Commission, the body that certifies mobile devices before they can hit stores, issued a strange statement on Thursday that seems to indicate its leadership has no idea how some of these devices operate.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asked Apple to activate the FM chips inside iPhone so that victims of national disasters have access to information when cellular service is down. Apple responded, schooling the FCC on how its iPhones are built, and why activating something that doesn’t exist isn’t possible.

“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted [activating the FM chips in their phones],” Pai said. “But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.’”

Yes, the FCC’s top official quoted a newspaper that surely doesn’t have access to the same kind of information about iPhones the FCC does. I’m pretty sure that all the documentation Apple has to file for every iPhone it wants to sell contains all the tech data the FCC would need to actually realize for itself whether an iPhone can or can’t support FM radio.

Apple, unsurprisingly, fired back, explaining that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not even have FM chips.

“Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products,” Apple told TechCrunch.

“Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

The same goes for the iPhone X, TechCrunch explains.

As for older iPhone models, while they may have FM chips inside, they’re not connected, and they have no antennas to support them. Apple never wanted them to work as FM radios, and if the parts are inside the phone, that’s because they were included in the older chips that handle wireless communication.

So Apple can’t turn on something that isn’t there or supported by hardware, no matter how hard the FCC demands it. Pai is yet to react to these revelations.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.