Home / Opinions / What is Apple SIM? A guide to the new iPad's killer feature

What is Apple SIM? A guide to the new iPad's killer featureWhat is Apple SIM? A guide to the new iPad's killer feature

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iPad air 2

Apple's quiet assault on the humble SIM

When Apple announced the iPad Air 2 last week, the focus was firmly on its super-skinny body, its potent A8X CPU, its Touch ID sensor, and its improved 8-megapixel camera. It was easy to overlook what could be the most important innovation of the lot.

We’re talking about Apple SIM, an unexpected stride towards a totally SIM-less future that launches on both the Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 this week.

So what exactly is Apple SIM?

It’s Apple’s SIM

It might sound obvious, but Apple SIM is Apple’s own SIM standard – and it's been threatening to instigate it for years. Traditional SIM cards are physical chips that act as network keys for a single account attached to a single network operator, but Apple SIM isn't tied to any network and is software-based.

But what are the benefits?

Apple SIM

Freedom to swap

Apple SIM means that you’ll be able to switch seamlessly to any cooperating operator through a simple change in your settings menu.

There'll be a physical benefit to this, of course. Changing to a new operator or a second mobile account won't require messing around with fiddly SIMs, wiry SIM tools and easy-to-loose SIM trays. Assuming this technology eventually trickles down to non-Apple devices, there will also be no more removing the rear cover and battery.

Speaking of which, there won’t be any of the issues that often accompany swapping between an iOS device and another, such as an Android phone. Ever tried moving a nano-SIM into a micro-SIM slot? Finding an adaptor, assembling said hybrid, and inserting it into a slender modern phone can be frustrating to say the least.

Then there are the network issues that can accompany reliance on a basic, physical chip for access to your local creaky mobile network. All (potentially) gone with Apple SIM.

Freedom to wander

This freedom has the potential to go beyond the freedom from using physical bits of plastic. It also means you’ll be free to wander between operators, choosing the precise plan that suits you best. This could include shorter-term call plans that don’t keep you locked in place for two years.

That freedom to wander has a more literal application, too. Just think of those occasions where you travel abroad, and find yourself deliberating over whether to buy a local SIM or swallow your operator’s roaming charges.

The former is invariably cheaper, but can you ever be bothered to go into a local phone shop and negotiate the switch in an unfamiliar language? Probably not.

With Apple SIM, such changes will be possible from your iOS device’s settings menu.

Thinner devices

No SIM cards means that Apple will be able to make even thinner phones and tablets. Think that’s an exaggeration given the tiny nature of nano-SIM cards?

In the past, that would be true. But consider this: Apple just released a tablet that’s 6.1mm thick. Just over half a centimetre. That’s tiny. Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus phones aren’t much thicker.

What we’re saying is that a millimetre here and there for the nano-SIM and its housing represents a much larger proportion of a device’s thickness than it did, say, three years ago. Getting rid of that will make quite a difference – and will create space for more important things like bigger batteries to boot.

SEE ALSO: iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3

Air 2 thin

It’s not the end of the SIM yet

Of course, replacing the physical SIM card in a tablet is very different from replacing it in a phone. With no voice calls or text allowances to worry about, it’s a far simpler data-only setup.

That’s also probably how Apple was able to get the operator support that it has. It’s likely to be a very different matter persuading those same networks – not to mention the majority that haven’t yet committed to Apple SIM – to give up their control and their lucrative 24-month contracts.

And as powerful as Apple is, it can’t yet distribute its iPhone range alone. It still needs that operator support to sell its devices to the masses, and we can't see the operators caving in to Apple's latest attempt to kill the SIM without a struggle.

Availability

Apple SIM will launch with the LTE versions of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 this week.

At present, only a small handful of US and UK operators are onboard. In fact, in the UK there’s only the one: EE.

Read more: iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Should you upgrade?

Russell Davies

October 25, 2014, 8:50 am

Presumably this now means that unless my local operator signs up I should steer clear of these devices otherwise I am cast adrift when mobile?

PJ Matthews

October 25, 2014, 10:41 am

This is all great but it's being reported that the apple sim is locking to certain networks once activated. See 9to5mac etc.

BoJoe

October 26, 2014, 8:00 am

Some misunderstandings in that article for sure. The apple sim is still a hardware sim. It is just that it is capable of downloading new subscriptions onto it. Also it is no simpler to make work for lte only as compared to voice. It is the same for both.

Prem Desai

October 26, 2014, 8:07 am

This is true innovation, at last, on Apple's part.

However, to make it work, the network operators need to play ball as well.

I would expect to be able to view my 'sim' account online and change it at will i.e. as simply as logging into a network provider. This means that if I go abroad or want to change my network provider or contract, I can do this instantly.

If it means that we have to wait days for someone to activate it or similar, then the concept won't take off.

Paul Cox

October 26, 2014, 9:14 am

You wouldn't think so from reading this article but the iPad Air 2 has a standard nano SIM card slot, Apple simply provides a network agnostic SIM card with it. If you use this card on AT&T for example it gets locked to the network and you have to get a new card if you want to use another network. If you want to use a local operator not supported by the Apple sim simply insert their nano sim in to the ipad.

Biggles

October 27, 2014, 8:25 am

The thing that prevents me using a local SIM when abroad is the problem of people not knowing my 'new' number. Now, if the Apple SIM could retain your original number, even when using a foreign network, that would really be an advance.

ElectricSheep

October 27, 2014, 4:06 pm

So, how do I pop my SIM into another phone and keep my number if I want / need to swap my handset for a while when travelling? Oh, I can't. This should be an industry movement, with all current eventualities and requirements taken into account, not just Apple forging ahead. Plus, is there any legitimate case to be concerned over hacking of the software? Not interested.

Donskoi

December 23, 2014, 4:27 am

Now we know "trustedreviews" cannot be trusted for anything but Apple marketing BS. Let's boil it down: "Apple SIM" = "Apple Locked" = "Leash for morons."

Instead of perfect freedom to use whatever mobile provider whenever, the moron who buys into this notion locks his SIM to ONLY those networks Apple lets him use and has pre-negotatiated.

A good example of the execrable idiocy of this review is...

"That freedom to wander has a more literal application, too. Just think of those occasions where you travel abroad, and find yourself deliberating over whether to buy a local SIM or swallow your operator’s roaming charges.

The former is invariably cheaper, but can you ever be bothered to go into a local phone shop and negotiate the switch in an unfamiliar language? Probably not."

I suppose the reviewer assumes all Apple users are as stupid as Apple thinks they are. Anybody who travels knows the moment you get off the flight in a foreign land there are a zillion stores and kiosks and vendors happy to sell you a local SIM, every one of whom speaks the English because they all expect Apple users are too stupid to speak the local language. Buy a local SIM for a negligible amount of local currency and you're good to go. If you are a fumble-fingered you can hop off the airplane in the middle of Africa and the guy will even install your SIM card for you with more grace, speed and skill than you'll find in the Apple store in Palo Alto.

If you bought the Air 2 you're out of luck: even if Verizon or whoever has gotten used to shafting you at home even has roaming where you are, it's going to cost you a fortune.

For that matter if you have multiple gadgets and choose which one you want to take on a trip with you, sometimes a bigger gadget and sometimes a smaller gadget you're out of luck as well. Or, if you have multiple SIM cards for different accounts and purposes, like business lines and personal lines and special deals for super duper international roaming and special deals for special countries you visit a lot - you're out of luck. All that is easy and effortless with the wonderful world ecosystem of open SIMs becomes impossible when you lock yourself to Apple SIM.

Apple SIM is fine for those people who want a device locked to Apple's network partners and Apple's network partners only. It's great for people who want to spend a lot of money to have Apple lock out their ability to choose.

Emilio Hugues

April 12, 2016, 1:29 pm

Is it going to work like a dual-SIM? I mean, am i going to be able to have my work line and my personal line at the same time in the same phone? In that case, will there be a restriction in having different lines?

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