Apple And The ‘Soft Sim': Not On The iPhone, But Maybe On the iPad?

Will she or won’t she? Last week, mobile operators in Europe were reportedly up in arms over Apple’s plans to integrate a “soft Sim” into its iPhone devices: do it, and we’re cutting the subsidies, they effectively said. Now apparently Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has retreated on the iPhone, but still plans to implement the soft Sim on its iPad, which wasn’t wrapped into any sales agreements with operators – until today.

Apple abandoned a plan to put a subsidised Sim into iPhones, in the wake of several European operators saying they would stop subsidising the devices. The news was first reported in The Sunday Telegraph.

“Apple has long been trying to build closer and closer relationships and cut out the operators. But this time they have been sent back to the drawing board with their tails between their legs,” said an operator source in the article.

Currently, a 32-GB iPhone 4 sold directly by Apple in the UK, without any operator plan, costs £599 ($924), whereas buying it on a contract with an operator can bring down the cost to as low as £29 ($46). iPhone 3GS models sometimes even come virtually free with certain contracts. The Sim is the crucial piece of hardware that links the device up with a particular mobile network. Operators are keen to stay away from software-based Sim plans, because they would make it easier for users to switch providers and remove some of the control that they keep over subscribers and subscriber data.

What happens with the iPad? The article goes on to say that while Apple has shelved plans for its iPhone, it still wants to put a soft Sim into its iPad devices, which it would sell either in the lead-up to Christmas or early in 2011, because these are not subsidised by operators.

Now here is the interesting part: today Orange and T-Mobile said they would start selling discounted iPads, bundled with data plans for their networks. The deal, according to a spokesperson, is not exclusive, so other operators could follow suit and also offer discounted, subsidised iPads bundled with data plans.

Would this mean a hard stop for the soft sim, then? We have contacted Apple for answers and will update here when we hear something.

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