The Verizon iPhone 4 got the tear-down treatment today, revealing a Qualcomm Gobi chip that is both GSM and CDMA compatible. Since the Verizon iPhone doesn’t have a SIM card slot, it can’t be used on GSM networks, but there’s talk the upcoming iPhone 5 could use the same chip and offer true dual-mode functionality. And the updated smartphone might not even need a smartphone to accomplish this.
The answer may lie in a tweet which is related to the news we broke last year regarding an embedded SIM solution from Gemalto, a company that currently makes SIM and micro SIM cards.
What if Apple wasn’t trying to bypass the carriers with the specially-designed hardware SIM, which would be built-in to the iPhone and be programmable to work with the carrier of a customer’s choosing? What if, instead, Apple is planning on doing away with the SIM card tray and multiple versions for the next iPhone, instead introducing one model that can work on both CDMA and GSM networks out of the box?
Based on Stacey’s original description of the Gemalto SIM, this makes a lot of sense. It would still allow users to sign up for and keep contracts with carriers at the time of initial purchase, but when travelling or roaming, a user could simply download an app or configuration setting to swap out carriers as required. Of course, it may mean that iPhones wouldn’t be as easy to lock to a specific carrier as they have been, but in markets outside the U.S., Apple has been selling iPhones unlocked off-contract since the introduction of the iPhone 4 anyway. Now that it’s opened up competition in the U.S., it might have enough leverage to make this happen.
A dual-mode iPhone 5 would also decrease Apple’s supply chain costs in the long run, and make the phone usable in a number of previously unreached international markets, too. CDMA isn’t nearly as popular as GSM internationally, but there are markets where it on fairly equal footing with GSM. Apple would be gain significantly from selling a phone in these markets with network interoperability.
Finally, it’s worth considering that Apple’s design preferences tend towards fewer and fewer outward protrusions and ports on the device’s surface. Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive would jump at the chance to make the iPhone’s minimalist lines even cleaner. And by removing the SIM slot, Apple could have more design room to fit additional components or utilize extra space for a larger battery.
If Apple wants to make a splash with the next iPhone with under the hood changes, this is definitely one that would do it.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):