Friday, September 22, 2023

The iPhone 14 lineup has no physical SIM support

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Shreya Christina
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The new iPhone 14 lineup comes without physical SIM trays — at least in the US. They can use two eSIMs at once (and store more than that), but is the lack of a physical tray a big deal? And is it user-hostile and stupid?

First, a refresher on eSIMs: they’re SIM cards, but electronic, not physical. That means your phone can be provisioned remotely — no more going to a store to buy a physical SIM card. This makes it (in some ways) easier to switch networks or try one out — T-Mobile now uses eSIMs to let people test the network for up to three months. As of iOS 16, you can even transfer your eSIM between iPhones via Bluetooth, which should make it almost as easy as a physical SIM card – as long as you stay in the Apple ecosystem. Naturally.

most important US carriers, and many worldwide, have eSIM supportand iPhones support them since 2018, including the ability to use two SIM cards at the same time. Until the iPhone 13, that meant one eSIM and one physical SIM; the iPhone 13 family introduced the ability to use two eSIMs at the same time. Removing the physical SIM card – and the hole in case it needs it – is the next logical step. At least for Apple.

If you’re on a major US cell phone network — AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile — the lack of a physical SIM tray probably won’t affect you much. Even if you change carriers or switch phones, you can download an eSIM directly from Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile without going to a store. But if you have an MVNO or reseller that doesn’t have eSIM support, or if you’re planning to move to an MVNO, don’t buy the iPhone 14 right now. You may not have to wait too long; this could be the push smaller carriers need to get on board with eSIMs.

The iPhone 14 Pro, without a SIM slot on the right.

That’s not a SIM slot; it’s a mmWave cutout
Image: Allison Johnson, The Verge

It’s important to note that iPhones can store multiple eSIMs, although only two can be active at a time. Apple doesn’t say how many eSIMs you can store on one iPhone, but global eSIM reseller Airolo says it’s five to ten, depending on the model. This could take some of the sting out of losing the physical SIM tray. (I haven’t used Airolo and can’t vouch for it, but if I can provide a local e-SIM card remotely when I travel abroad, the problem of finding a local SIM card could go away.) The ability to do more than having one active SIM card is great for frequent travelers, people who live in areas where one of the networks has spotty coverage, or people who have separate work and personal numbers. I bought my iPhone 11 when I lived in the Netherlands and it has both a Dutch eSIM and a physical Verizon SIM card. That meant I could use a local SIM whether I was in Europe or the US without losing access to my other number, or messing with my iMessage or WhatsApp settings.

Physical SIM cards make it easy to move your phone to another carrier or transfer your number to a new phone. They’re ubiquitous, work on all phones, and are easy enough to use (though they’re also easy to lose; ask me how I know), and many of my colleagues aren’t thrilled about losing the SIM slot. Moving an eSIM from an iPhone to an Android phone is not necessarily trivial. I don’t think removing the SIM tray is required user-hostile to most people; most people just don’t switch carriers or phones every few weeks. But that depends on how easy providers make it to install and migrate eSIMs across platforms. We’ll see how this plays out.

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