Call it the Godzilla problem. Apple is so big and influential that any move it makes will have huge consequences for someone, somewhere. If Godzilla walks around, he leaves huge footprints (and, let’s be honest, a bunch of squashed stuff) behind him.
And like any great company (or nuclear Kaiju), Apple knows when it’s time to tread lightly and when it’s time to go all out. Any choice he makes — especially when it comes to the iPhone — can move markets, make or break vendors, and skew the trajectory of the tech industry.
When Apple announced the iPhone, it broke the control that wireless carriers had over our phones. Apple would bring the iPhone to the company that agreed to keep its paws on the phone’s Apple interface, AT&T (then Cingular) agreed, and the rest is history.
Now Apple is up to the task again.
eSIM for some
With the iPhone 14 models, Apple is using its weight to encourage the adoption of a new technology: eSIMs. For years, all cell phones included a tiny smart card called a SIM that held the “identity” of those devices so they could connect to the cellular network. Over time, this became superfluous – this information could just as easily be stored on devices and even transferred from one device to another. And so someone invented the eSIM, which did just that, and SIM cards were doomed.
(As with so many new technologies, Apple wasn’t the first to release a phone with eSIM support. Samsung seems to be earning that accolade.)
But the world is slowly changing and it’s so much easier to continue doing business as usual. So, although eSIMs have become more popular, the SIM card is still required in many countries. Carriers apparently fear that eliminating the need for a physical card will make switching networks easier for customers. But mostly, I think they fear change. And don’t want to do the extra work to change if they don’t have to.
Do you hear those footsteps? Godzilla is coming.
Apple forces change
Not all iPhone 14s sold in the United States come with a SIM card slot. It’s just not there. And this is going to have a powerful effect on mobile operators around the world. Here in the US, this will drive eSIM adoption. iPhone users can use an eSIM since the new models introduced in 2018, but 100% of people who upgrade from iPhone 14 will have to make the switch.
(Apple has been pushing users in this direction for some time, with recent phones shipping without any SIM card installed. Users can add one themselves, of course, but it’s so easy to give in.)
Of course, Americans travel too, and given the iPhone’s large market share, this will increase the demand for eSIMs. Operators in other countries who like to sell SIM cards to tourists will need to familiarize themselves with eSIMs if they haven’t already. The ball will continue to roll. eSIMs will continue on their way to inevitability.
Apple benefits… eventually
In the long run, it’s clear that Apple is going to want to stop building SIM slots into all iPhone models. In the short term, however, it just can’t do that – so it makes two different versions of its phones, for the US and for the rest of the world. (That’s nothing new – Apple has been making large iPhones with dual SIM slots for the Chinese market for a while now, believe it or not.)
In the long run, eliminating the slot will be good for Apple because it eliminates another potential water and dust ingress point, a small, delicate metal SIM slot, and the space inside the phone case. ‘iPhone dedicated to reading the SIM card.
Unfortunately, in the short term, there is almost no upside for Apple. The company can’t make two completely different designs of the iPhone’s internals, one for the US and one for everyone else. That’s why, when iFixIt tore iPhone 14 Pro, he found a small plastic spacer where the SIM socket was supposed to be. Until the SIM card is defeated everywhere, it will further complicate the design of the iPhone.
But now that Apple has started pushing, the defeat of the SIM card is inevitable. The townspeople can’t fight Godzilla, they just need to get out of his way.
What’s next, monster?
This year we’ve seen Apple’s influence take hold in a few other interesting areas. Certainly, the announcement of Emergency SOS via Satellite has been a game changer in terms of satellite data services for consumer cellular devices. Elon Musk and T-Mobile went so far as to anticipate Apple’s announcement with their own press conference, announcing that SpaceX’s Starlink service would be possibly work with T-Mobile’s wireless network to fill carrier gaps.
Considering that Apple would have purchased 85% capacity of its partner Globalstar’s satellite network, there will undoubtedly be a shortage of satellite capacity and many new data satellites will have to be launched. (Apple’s satellite connectivity runs through a Qualcomm 5G modem chip, but while competitors can buy the chip, they’ll have to find a place to purchase limited satellite data resources in the meantime.)
As the operator of two of the world’s most popular computing platforms, Apple’s involvement with the new WebAuthn standard – which Apple calls Passkeys – is making the widespread adoption of this standard a done deal, especially more than Google and Microsoft are on board. Similarly, the new Matter standard for smart home devices has allowed Apple and some of its larger competitors to declare peace and ensure that the new standard will cross the finish line.
So what’s next in terms of global changes for Apple? Unfortunately, Godzilla is not responding to his voicemails.