Having killed off the headphone jack, Apple now has physical SIM cards in its cross-hairs.
While the latest iPhone 14 models unveilled overnight are predictably brimming with new features, the focus for many will be what’s missing, with the SIM card slot dropped in favour of two eSIMs.
For now, this is only for iPhones sold in the US – the rest of the world will still see their iPhone 14s with the familiar if fiddly nanoSIM tray alongside one eSIM module.
But it’s considered a sure sign of things to come, raising the possibility that next year’s iPhone 15 series will go eSIM-only on a global basis.
Apple talked up the benefits of the eSIM technology during the launch keynote, citing everything from increased security to ease of use.
Embedded SIMs, or eSIMs for short, allow users to activate a mobile plan without the need for a tiny physical SIM card.
That’s done over the air using WiFi or by scanning a carrier-supplied QR code, making eSIMs a popular option for international travellers as well as anybody who needs to juggle several numbers, such as personal and business accounts.
Not only do most country-specific carriers offer eSIM packages, but dozens of global roaming suppliers have a single app from which users can select and activate a range of plans across more than a hundred countries – ideal for globetrotters with busy itineraries.
However, this app-based approach relies on providers having plans and rates which are equal to or better than the actual SIM card you can pick up from almost any mobile phone shop or stall.
While only two eSIM accounts can be active at a time, the iPhone can effectively store any number of eSIMs to be activated as the need arises – just like having a fistful of tiny SIM card chips.
Apple first introduced the eSIM in the iPhone XS series of 2018, with that year’s iOS 12 update adding the ability to manage two numbers – one per SIM, and designated as Primary and Secondary services – and also specify which number is used for calls, text messages and also mobile data.
The Apple Watch and cellular-enabled iPads also contain eSIM tech.
“An eSIM-only iPhone was always a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’” noted GlobalData analyst Emma Mohr-McClune earlier this year, although she believed Apple would keep a “dual eSIM-plus-physical SIM slot model for the mass market and its key carrier channel.”
Instead, Apple has gone for a big bang approach in its home market, with the major US telcos all on board.
“It’s a natural evolution,” said Jeff Howard, vice president of mobile devices and accessories at AT&T. “It’s going to make the experience better down the road.”
2023 could then shape up to be a year of major changes to the iPhone 15, with not just the removal of physical SIM slot but swapping the Lightning connector for a USB-C port, which will become compulsory for all mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, cameras, headphones and earbuds sold within the EU before the end of 2024.