Multi-network iPhone SIM rumours at Apple
Fondle-slab to become naughty slut who'll go with anyone?
Rumours are circulating that Apple intends to produce a future iPhone with a special SIM card - probably integrated into the handset rather than swappable - which would permit a user to swap at will between cellular networks.
The plans are reported on by GigaOm but not officially confirmed by Apple. According to the website, the plans would be aimed initially at customers in Europe, where most countries have no exclusive network-iPhone tie in as exists in the US.
In effect, the cunning switchable SIM would offer the same option as buying a SIM-free iPhone and then changing SIM cards to select an operator. Of course one can already do so, but this option removes the fiddle of physically swapping cards.
Reportedly the technology itself would come from digital security house Gemalto. European telco bigwigs are said to have visited Cupertino recently for talks to confirm that the device would be permitted to work on their networks.
Various analysts have speculated that the any-network iPhone could "cut the carriers out" of the phone business, and suggest that the new tech could herald a major upheaval.
It's probably worth noting, though, that a current iPhone 4 costs £600 or more without operator subsidy - a steeper price than most would probably be willing to pay upfront, though of course when a network sells a locked phone for less it makes the difference back (and more) through its charges afterwards.
Perhaps Apple has plans to offer the new, doubtless cripplingly pricey any-net iPhone on some kind of delayed hire-purchase scheme, so that users could have the exact same financial experience they do now - but with the margins going to Cupertino rather than the telcos. The famously uncommunicative communications-equipment firm hasn't responded to the Register's request for comment as of publication. ®
Dumb, dumb and dumber
The whole reason the SIM card model evolved was to allow easy transference of the users account if the phone breaks or is upgraded. Going backwards to a "welding in SIM card", which is what this would be doing, makes what would normally be something anyone can do in seconds into a hassle taking a lot of effort on the part of everyone involved.
Buying an iPhone is like buying a car whose hood is welded shut, has a governor on it so you can only drive as fast as the car maker allows, can only use fuel purchased from the car dealer, and that can only run on special tracks owned by the car dealer. Who would put up with that? iPhone users do every day, which is why I dumped my iPhone.
At one time, Apple exhorted its customers to "think differently". Today, it's "think only what we allow you to think".
Sorry, (almost) all wrong I think
This is all about Apple closing various loopholes - they control the SIM which mean they can control who you connect to. You can't do anything that Apple doesn't approve of. It means Apple can do deals with operators, and operators can easily enforce only using iPhoneys on certain tariffs - being able to prevent you using one on their cheapest tariffs is likely to be attractive to the networks.
Also, even if that doesn't stop you, for me there's the practical issue that I can't take the SIM out of my phone and put it in something else. At the moment, when I want internet on my laptop I put my SIM in a 3G dongle - does the iPhoney do tethering and data sharing ? Another situation I had recently was when I needed to do some work on the roof - and as I didn't want to risk dropping my expensive phone and killing it, I put the SIM in an old phone for the duration (I did need to take a phone as I needed to be able to phone down to the office so someone could check if the wireless kit was working)
It's don't think it's about bypassing the carriers
This is going to be a software configurable SIM, the provisioning of which would have to involve two parties – Apple and the carrier. There’s no way to provision a SIM onto a network without that service provider being involved in the transaction.
I see three advantages to Apple in this approach, none of which are to do with bypassing the carrier;
1) Supply chain/channel
A single skew can ship globally. At present Apple has to ship hardware with subsidy locks in place into each channel. This is hugely expensive, and challenging for the channel whenever Apple releases a new model. This could also enable Apple to retail subsidised phones and iPads through Apple Stores.
A hardware SIM embedded on the motherboard will be cheaper to manufacture, and take up less space. It also removes one more aperture from the outside of the case, which is clearly in line with Apple’s design philosophy.
3) Removing a reason to Jailbreak
Apple gets ongoing revenue from carrier. Thats why the iPhone price plans are different to those offered for other devices.
The primary reason for jailbreaking is to take the hardware to another network. An embedded SIM stops this dead. More phones stay on the carrier and plan that Apple wants, and there’s very little reason for the average user to attempt to Jailbreak. In fact the only reason left now is to install apps that you can’t get through the iTunes app store. This will be marginal.
IMHO this does little to threaten the carrier beyond what Apple already achieves through ownership of the Application and content ecosystem.