With the iPhone 14, Apple has worked up the courage to remove yet another physical connector. This time it’s the slot for the physical SIM card that cellular networks use to identify their subscribers. In the United States, Apple will only sell the iPhone 14 without a SIM card slot, and will instead only support eSIM, which embeds a digital version of the card inside the phone itself.
Much like the headphone jack before it, Apple is pitching its move to ditch physical SIM cards as a boon for consumers. The company says eSIM is more secure and easier to connect, and it allows customers to add multiple lines on a single phone, each with their own phone numbers. But the move to kill off physical SIM cards will also cause a lot of problems in the short term, most notably by limiting customers’ choice of carriers both at home and abroad.
This feature or functionality will not be available in South Africa for now. Some countries’ wireless carriers still require a physical SIM card, and for countries that do allow for eSIM, the options are sometimes limited. Over at XDA-Developers, Adam Conway points to Ireland as an example, noting that you can only get an eSIM through Vodafone, whose pay-as-you-go plans are twice the price of other local carriers.
HOW WILL ESIM AFFECT COMPETITION BETWEEN CARRIERS?
In theory, eSIM could make the wireless business more competitive by lowering the barriers to switching. A company like Apple could even potentially offer a marketplace of some kind, in which users could easily shop around for service from different carriers.
That said, wireless carriers have other ways of locking you in, such as the generous subsidies they offer on new iPhones in exchange for long-term payment plans. You can’t switch carriers without losing those subsidies, so leaving is hard even if eSIM technically makes it easier.
WILL ESIM MAKE UNLOCKING YOUR PHONE ANY EASIER?
eSIM has no bearing on whether a phone is locked or unlocked. If your phone is locked to a specific carrier, you can’t add another eSIM card to it, for instance while traveling overseas. (Verizon automatically unlocks new phones after 60 days for postpaid customers, even for phones on installment plans, but AT&T and T-Mobile both require you to pay for the phone in full first.)
WHAT DOES ESIM MEAN FOR THE GEEKS WHO CONSTANTLY SWITCH BETWEEN PHONES?
This is one area in which eSIM will likely be more annoying over the long term. Instead of just being able to swap physical SIM cards–a process that takes less than a minute–you’ll have to go through the wireless carrier’s app or online portal to transfer service.
Verizon spokesman George Koroneos notes that you won’t have to pay an activation fee each time, that’s just if you’re activating a new line, but the process could still be a hassle given that you have to get the carrier involved in the first place.
Most users will never have to worry about this, but spare a thought, if you will, for the gadget reviewers, industry analysts, and tech enthusiasts who do.
“I’m expecting this to be a personal nightmare, but we’ll see,” Greengart says.