Apple's iPhone 5.

iPhone 5 and the nano-SIM – change for the sake of change?

Apple's iPhone 5. Apple’s iPhone 5.
Did we really need a new SIM card format with Apple’s new iPhone?
There’s a lot to get excited about with the iPhone 5, especially if you’re yearning for a little more screen real estate, but there’s also a lot to be frustrated about. This latest iPhone is the least-backwards-compatible iPhone yet — that’s an awkward phrase but you know what I mean. The change in screen size means it won’t work with tight-fitting accessories such as many cases and car kits. The connector change to “Lightning”, while ignoring the micro-USB standard, means that it won’t work with older chargers and music docks without the extra expense of cumbersome adaptors. And the change from a micro-SIM card to the smaller nano-SIM will also make life harder for those who tend to mix and match smartphones and SIM cards when they travel.

It’s easy to pay out on Cupertino for pushing new formats, but the truth is that a new SIM format was coming regardless. 

Both the Lightning connector and nano-SIM format are slightly smaller and thinner than their predecessors, which Apple claims is necessary to cram more into the new phone. But you can’t help but feel the nano-SIM change is as much about Apple throwing its weight around and making it harder for iPhone owners to stray from the flock.
Apple tends to lead the way with SIM card changes, making it just that bit harder to swap between phones. Jet-setting businessfolk who swap SIMs to avoid the global roaming stingmight want to hold off on upgrading to the iPhone 5 until they’re sure they can get their hands on nano-SIMs everywhere they need them.
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When Apple first moved to the micro-SIM card format with the iPhone 4, I was concerned that telcos would use it as an excuse to gouge customers — denying them the best call and data deals simply because they were using an iPhone. Thankfully it seems my fears were misplaced and Australian telcos seem happy to switch your number across to a micro-SIM, perhaps only charging a few dollars to cover the cost of the SIM.
Considering this I think it’s unlikely that Australian telcos will pounce on the nano-SIM as a chance to gouge customers, but that might not be the case in other countries. I certainly wouldn’t want to turn up in a foreign country and hope for the best when it comes to obtaining a good deal on a nano-SIM. Trimming down a standard or micro-SIM to a nano-SIM seems a much riskier prospect now the margin for error is so thin.
It’s easy to pay out on Cupertino for pushing new formats, but the truth is that a new SIM format was coming regardless. It was just a question of which format won the standards battle. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes wrangling over this new nano-SIM format, with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute finally backing Apple’s design over proposals from Motorola, Nokia and RIM.
The competition proposed a notch-based design which would let SIM cards pop in and out without the need for a tray. At one point Nokia even threatened that it wouldn’t license its SIM-related patents if Apple won this battle, fearing that Apple’s push was related to the mobile patent wars. Nokia backed down and Apple pledged to offer royalty-free licensing for the new micro-SIM format, but you can understand why this makes competitors nervous in this age of legal battles.
The long-term trend is towards embedded SIM cards — a concept which telcos have fought because they know it will put more control in the hands of Apple. Cupertino backed down this time, but you can be sure embedded SIM cards will be back on the table during the next major iPhone hardware refresh. Apple will claim that it’s all about cramming more into the phones, but it’s pretty hard to take the control freaks at Cupertino at face value when it comes to these things. The fact that the telcos and other handset makers don’t trust Apple’s motives speaks volumes.
What’s your take on the nano-SIM issue? Is it more about hardware design or about maintaining control?

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