If You're Trying To Unseat An Entrenched Technology, You Need To Offer Some Significant Improvements

from the but-I've-already-got-one dept

Despite the technological advances that constantly turn our heads, plenty of old technologies just keep hanging on, because they do a more than acceptable job, while their would-be replacements don’t offer enough improvement to justify additional expense or hassle. A case in point is FM radio. It’s ubiquitous, it’s effective, and it’s pretty cheap. The quality of the content it carries may be another matter, but the technology itself remains sound and in wide use, despite its age. But many countries are trying to supplant or replace analog radio with digital technology; in Europe, the DAB standard is popular, while in the US, there’s a format called HD Radio. Neither has really caught on with consumers, though, but it’s not hard to understand why: they don’t offer enough improvement over good ol’ FM. A big justification for HD Radio is the ability for broadcasters to charge listeners for access to their content, which isn’t exactly a strong user benefit.

But in the case of DAB, or at least its implementation in the UK, it sounds like digital radio is actually a step backwards from FM. Over at The Guardian’s technology blog, Jack Schofield compares the merits of DAB against internet radio, and comes down firmly on the internet radio side. It’s not hard to understand why, when he points out that the UK’s DAB system offers worse sound quality than FM, thanks to an inefficient codec, and from the sounds of things, fewer choices of stations. Leaving the digital-vs.-internet radio argument aside, why would people pony up for a new radio to replace their FM ones when it offers them a lesser experience? Technologies don’t get replaced in the market solely because they’re old, they get replaced when something that offers real improvements at a reasonable price comes along.

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Comments on “If You're Trying To Unseat An Entrenched Technology, You Need To Offer Some Significant Improvements”

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ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

I've been waiting for this!

I stopped listening to music radio a decade and a half ago, so this is great news! The same forty songs over and over were just not up to snuff for my ears. Thank the Lords of Kobol that we now have a way to charge me for the experience, while giving me a more problematic way to listen!

Now if we can only convince Apple to put a radio tuner into an iPod, my life would be complete.

PocketRadio (user link) says:

Re: I've been waiting for this!

“Will radio ever be built into an iPod?”

“And what’s peculiar about that is that such gadgets are indeed on the market. But they aren’t manufactured by Apple and they don’t have 75% of the mp3 player market, the way the iPod does… Thus there is no chance – none whatsoever – that Apple computer will ever in a million years add an FM (or HD) radio to their shiny little miracle child.”


Will never happen!

Ron says:

Technologies also change when government mandates it, regardless of whether it’s beneficial or superior. That’s a little more common in Europe, and it has some successes (GSM). They also have had for a while a digital subcarrier on UK radio that is useful for messages when you tune into a station, such as name of song playing or even emergency messages (and ads??). Of course some mandated technologies are hopeless (clipper chip). Governments and technology don’t mix well.

But if you leave it to the market, most anything can happen. Even inferior technologies can win (e.g. VCR format).

Tghu Verd says:

Re: Re:

The UK still has that digital subcarrier – station messages scrolled across the radio display in most of my hire cars during a recent trip.

On the actual topic of “If You’re Trying To Unseat An Entrenched Technology, You Need To Offer Some Significant Improvements”, I’m not sure that the premise actually holds up to scrutiny.

Indeed, wasn’t the whole point of Clayton Christensen’s book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that you can unseat entrenched technologies by offering inferior features?

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

A big justification for HD Radio is the ability for broadcasters to charge listeners for access to their content

Oh oh, I want that! Paying for the same crappy and insipid narrow set lists of music played over and over again.

And best of all it’s in “HD,” which everyone admits has nothing to do with a higher sound quality as it’s still crappy CD quality, and that “HD is purely a marketing term, er, a deceptive marketing term.

Wow, I hope I get the chance to pay a lot.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Crappy CD quality? What quality level would you prefer from your radio?

I don’t know, how about SACD or DVD-A?!

The people and companies behind digital radio are calling it “HD.” Currently the “HD” video found on Blu-ray discs is significantly better than the quality found on DVDs and VHS tapes.

However, this so called “HD” used by digital radio is the exact same quality that we’ve had since 1982, nearly 30 years ago!

If the audio quality has not improved after about three decades, exactly why are they calling it “HD”? Well, I already answered that. They’re being deceptive. They’re trying to associate the higher quality that High Definition video content has to make people falsely believe that HD radio is also at a higher quality. Which it is not true.

Avatar28 says:

Re: Re: Re: It's all relative

HD IS higher quality than FM. Just as HD Video is an improvement over standard video, so HD radio is over FM. Of course, just as with HDTV there are different factors that influence the quality. For instance, they can have up to three channels in the HD band. The first is generally identical to their main FM analog, just in higher quality. The second is usually not as good as the first and the third is pretty poor but okay for talk radio. Of course, a station can forego the 2nd and 3rd channels and just focus on higher quality in the main channel (just like HDTV). Oh, and did you know you can have HD radio on the AM band too? huh uh. How’s that for a nice improvement in quality.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It's all relative

HD IS higher quality than FM.

It’s still based upon a quality that’s been around for nearly 30 years. And I highly doubt that the vast majority of people could tell the difference between a CD and an FM radio anyway. In other words, even it is is better than FM, it is not sufficiently better for anyone to notice.

(just like HDTV).

It’s like HDTV in that you can have multiple sub broadcasts. It is not like HDTV in relation to quality as there is no noticeable increase in quality. That’s what we’re discussing here. Quality.

did you know you can have HD radio on the AM band too? huh uh. How’s that for a nice improvement in quality.

Exactly how does putting “HD radio on the AM band” improve quality? You’re just writing conclusions without any arguments to back them up.

toastiejoe says:


We lived in the UK for 3 years recently and naturally I bought a DAB radio. Reception was questionable, but the set up for finding stations was a total pain. Could be I bought a cheaper model, but compared to an FM set it was not cheap at all. A new technology can be better or worse than an entrenched one, but if it is complicated, marginally different, and more expensive, it’s doomed. Bring on Internet radio!

Dave Beck (profile) says:

Don't buy DAB, it just gives them hope

I just asked a car salesman if the DAB radio he was pushing would work in France, where we often visit. His unexpected answer was, no, it would not as the French (and other chunks of Europe) were using a later standard. I bought the FM model, works everywhere, but even that is different in the US where the distance between stations differs, so watch that digital dialling. Looks to me like the vested interests are now wearing woolly coats. The European wide FM digital sub channel is exploited for station id and traffic, if your receiver has the options, most car radios have. DAB doesn’t have the traffic info either.

PocketRadio (user link) says:

Digital Radio is a Farce!

DAB has been switched off in Germany and has failed uptake in Canada and the US. UK DAB is a joke, as DAB has poor coverae and digital artifacting. HD Radio has failed to gernerate any consumer interest, and it is jamming our broadcast bands, especially on AM radio. HD Radio is an attempt by the larger radio groups to jam the smaller community stations off the dial. HD Radio is a farce!


Ray Trygstad (profile) says:

HD Radio in the US is PROPRIETARY

Instead of an open standard that anyone could build to, the FCC selected an HD radio standard that is proprietary and is entirely under the thumb of the owner, iBiquity. This enormously and artificially drives up the cost of HD radio in the U.S. You can buy an FM stereo receiver in dollar stores but HD radios are rarely available for less than $100 due to the “iBiquity tax”. I’ve got news for the broadcasting industry and the FCC: Americans ain’t gonna pay $100 for a RADIO. There are too many alternatives available out there today: way too many. If digital (i.e. HD radio) were as cheap as analog radio but with better sound, many of us would be there in a heartbeat, but it’s just too much money for too little advantage now.

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