Why does Apple care so much about SIM cards anyway?


Comparison of SIM card sizes by Giesecke & Devrient

Apple(s AAPL) has reportedly offered its design for itsy bitsy SIM cards — known officially as nano-SIM — to other mobile device makers that are part of the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) without asking them to pay for it. There’s probably more to it than a sudden spirit of generosity. Apple loves to control the entire experience of its products, and when it comes to the iPhone and now iPad, the biggest uncontrollable element is a customer’s wireless carrier. And having a say in the SIM card, in theory, pushes Apple closer to the long-term goal of controlling every aspect of its mobile devices.

This has bubbled up in the news because of an impending hearing to decide between Apple’s proposal for the design of nano-SIM cards and those of Nokia(s NOK), Motorola(s MMI) and RIM(s RIMM) before the European telecom standards organization later this week, as the Financial Times reported last week.

Why does Apple care about SIM card design at all? Its interest in smaller SIM cards is certainly related to design and usability — a SIM card that’s 60 percent smaller than the current micro-SIM can mean a smaller, slimmer smartphone. And in a power-hungry device like an iPad, the space leftover from a smaller SIM could go to larger batteries or other components.

But there’s more in it for Apple. If it’s able to control the SIM card in phones, it holds more sway over the subscriber. My colleague Stacey Higginbotham has covered this extensively, and was first with evidence that Apple is aiming to cut out the carriers eventually with even tinier embeddable SIM cards made by Gemalto. If they succeed in embedding these cards, iPhone or iPad buyers could buy the device direct from Apple and simultaneously choose the carrier they want to use, and Apple could activate service right at the point of purchase. It also means easier roaming on other networks.

Yes, carriers would have to allow Apple devices to operate on their networks, so Apple has to have support from some of them to pull this off. And that doesn’t seem to be happening in the immediate future.

Nano-SIM cards aren’t the same thing as tiny, embeddable SIM cards. The line from a situation where every major personal cellular device uses the same small SIM card to Apple gaining control of the carrier relationships with its own customers isn’t direct. But you can see how such a strategy to control what SIM cards are used could consolidate power and pull within the industry in favor of Apple. That could come in handy eventually.



I use wifi/3g calling with a dialr account that through sim card


Why are we still using sim cards anyway? Couldn’t we just pick up a new phone, type our username and password, and start using it? Just like we do with the Skype client?

Bonus: we could use more than a phone with the same number.


Wait, what’s the difference between an embeddable SIM card and not using one at all like Verizon (yes I know the wirelss tech is diff)?

Do Are you alluding to some design where each apple device would be locked to a carrier since the SIM is embedded?


How about if apple released a sim card stamp. You put in micro-SIM. SMASH! You take out nano-SIM. Free with every device of first two generations with nano-SIM trays!


If you’re suggesting that Apple’s whole world domination is through a SIM card – that doesn’t make any sense. For argument, even if they are embedded SIM card. still wireless carrier have the say as how they are going to provide their service.

What’s missed out is the advantage out of this innovation. Wouldn’t Nokia or RIM (why are we even talking about RIM?) be interested in more space inside a device ?

I don’t think adopting nano-sim suddenly gives Apple an edge over others – given its free of cost.

Adam C

Agree with you, I too don’t see how Apple is able to gain control and power through the SIM.

A smaller SIM helps with the design but not the control. Even with the eventual progress to embedded SIM it is still the carriers’ playground because they are the ones subsidizing the phone.


How is Apple “controlling” the SIM standards if they make it freely available to all (which the article neglects to mention)? What benefit does Apple derive from Nano-Sims that does not equally benefit other companies that choose to use it?

Erica Ogg

Hi there,

In the first line of the story I say Apple is offering it free. And as I wrote in the last paragraph, it’s not a direct connection, but by controlling the SIMs that become standard, Apple stands to gain power and influence.

Henry 3 Dogg

Whereas motorola are already serial abusers of standards essential patents that they hold and use specifically to attack Apple.


Erica, I see your point, but I believe your argument is a stretch.
Apple is mainly focused on bringing the best possible experience to it’s primary customer – the end user.
Even though it would be interesting to see if they can cut out the carriers to some extend, I think this is not their goal, and it would be unwise.

Blake Helms

Why are we even still using SIM cards? I have never once been able to take a SIM card from my old phone and put it in a new one. They’re always updating them or changing sizes. At this point it’s just a removable phone component. Get rid of it and be done with it.


I have used the same SIM card for almost 10 years now and it has been in dozens of phones, including all the iPhones. The non-SIM, carrier-oriented view is pretty much US-only.

Henry 3 Dogg

Strange that the 2G SIM from your original iPhone would work in the 3G and 3GS and then in the micro 3G slot on the iPhone 4.


To Henry 3 Dogg; simply because there isn’t such a thing as “2G SIM” or “3G SIM”. The characteristics of the SIM have changed over the years, e.g. more memory. I moved my SIM from a Nokia 3G phone to the original iPhone (yes, I did downgrade to back 2G — I moved to 3G around 2005 with Nokia’s 6680). At some point I cut the SIM to micro SIM (with scissors) but I have also used the same SIM on a standard sized phone with an adapter. (Yes, I agree that I change a phone more often than an average user)


You’ve never been to any parts of Asia or Europe have you?


The best solution is not a smaller SIM card, but using an available SIM Chip that is soldered to the PCB


How is this even balanced news. Put editorial content in front of title. So apple should define and be a monopoly,?


This doesn’t make sense since, according to The Verge, the Apple option is just a smaller SIM with no technical change. But the Nokia, RIM version is a totally different format. That reverses the whole argument.

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