For the first time, an Apple iPad has a pre-installed SIM card and it allows users to switch between a variety of select networks to get the best pricing deal. So many were surprised when Apple mentioned a big thing like the Apple SIM card only fleetingly in the October 16 event when it introduced iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3, iMac, OS X Yosemite and Safari browser.
People purchasing iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 3 in US or UK will get their tablets having re-programmable pre-installed SIM card. As the Apple Website states, “The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad.”
The website also says, “You can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments. And when you travel, you may also be able to choose a data plan from a local carrier for the duration of your trip.” In the US, the scheme is limited to only three carriers till now – AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. In the UK, there’s only the EE at present.
The Apple SIM is removable and the iPads bought from a carrier will have regular locked SIMs. It can be replaced by a regular SIM card but this could be the first step signaling the end of the SIM card as we know it now. Apple will try to extend this scheme to more and more countries and may use it in iPhones too, and in a few years we might not even see a SIM card or a SIM tray.
For years, Apple has been interested in doing away with SIM cards and has been exploring the possibility of using non-removable embedded SIM cards. It has also been experimenting with the way they are used. In the original iPhone of 2007, the SIM card could be removed from the tray only by using a paper clip which appeared absurd at the time. But now it seems perfectly normal when many flagship phones come with a steel SIM card ejector pin to remove the SIM.
The original iPad that came in 2010 had a micro-SIM which made it very difficult as most of the GSM carriers used larger SIM cards at the time. The same year, Apple’s new iPhone 4 also carried the micro-SIM. Gradually, the GSM carriers began to shift to micro SIM cards.
With iPhone 5, Apple introduced the nano-SIM and again the phone competitors and carriers had to switch over to nano-SIMs. All of Apple’s present day iPhones and iPads use nano-SIMs but not all competitors use it yet. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 still has a micro-SIM card.
Apple is using its clout in the market to dictate the carriers. Four carriers are with it so far for its Apple SIM- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and UK’s EE. After introducing them in the iPads, the day is not far when new iPhone’s too will be using them. The carriers have to be ready for that if they want to carry iPhones.
It is entirely possible that as a next step, Apple will do away with the SIM card tray and use embedded re-programmable SIMs in its devices. Google and other Android manufacturers have not shown their inclination to use this technology yet.
But if Apple goes ahead with this, it will make switching carriers by users very easy, increasing competition among various carriers and compelling other phone makers to push up their technology.
If this happens, it will be the death of the removable SIM card as we know it now.