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iPhone embedded SIMs: power grab or power share?

iPhone embedded SIMs: power grab or power share?

Is Apple’s open SIM plan a novel idea or a simply scheme for it to gain more control over its products? Joe Minihane gives his verdict.

It seems Apple’s plans for embedded SIMs in its next-gen iPhone have been dealt a blow, with network insiders telling Sunday papers that the idea had already been killed off before it officially got off the ground.

Cupertino had reportedly been planning to build SIMs right into its phones, bypassing carriers completely and letting users choose which package they wanted via iTunes. The phone might cost more up front, but the idea seemed to be that owners would save money in the long run by thrashing out deals which didn’t tie them into long term contracts. It could even have meant picking a new carrier when you travel, circumventing expensive roaming charges in foreign countries.

The networks were understandably cool on the prospect of further ceding power to Apple, which already takes a huge cut of iPhone owners’ bills and gets the full amount for each device sold. However, it seems Apple is more likely to press ahead with this model when it comes to the iPad, which is not subsidised. Word is the iPad 2 will offer an embedded open SIM which you’ll be able to slip onto any provider you wish. So, who’s right? The networks or Apple? Is Steve Jobs really keen on giving over more power to end users, or is he just concerned with locking them into the Apple ecosystem?

After all, an embedded SIM means you can’t slip the card into another phone and use that instead. The latter is a deal breaker for first adopters and gadget fanatics who love to chop and change, but Jobs will doubtless argue (perhaps correctly) that they represent a minority, and that most people don’t swap phones once they’ve got an iPhone in their pocket.

In a way, the move makes sense. You can choose a deal which doesn’t tie you down for two years and the monthly cost will be lower because administration costs are averted. Conversely, Apple has total control over your device and you can’t do as you please with it. On the PR front, Apple will choose to dress this up as a helpful way to give power back to consumers when it unveils the SIM embedded iPad next year. But really, it’s hard to escape the idea that this is a new way for Apple to take back control. After all, it took ages for it to work out global deals to sell the original iPhone, and if there’s one company that hates working with others, it’s Apple.

So, what happens with the stillborn SIM embedded iPhone? It might not land next year, but Apple eventually got its way with the networks with the cut it gets from sales, as well as micro SIMs. Neither has hampered sales of the iPhone, which is still selling like crazy. The networks will battle this, but if it works on the iPad, expect to see it on the iPhone too.

Apple haters will say it’s another way to stop end users using their devices as they please. Apple fanboys will say it makes life easier. Both sides may have a point, but it’s hard to see around the fact that one day embedded SIMs will very much be the reality.

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