We call it the Godzilla problem. Apple is so big and influential that any move you make will have dire consequences for someone, somewhere. If Godzilla walks, he leaves massive footprints (and let’s be honest, a bunch of smashed things) behind him.
And like any big company (or a nuclear Kaiju), Apple knows when it’s time to step up lightly and when it’s time to let go of its weight. Any choice you make—especially with the iPhone—could move markets, make or corrupt suppliers, and distort the trajectory of the tech industry.
When Apple announced the iPhone, it broke the wireless carriers’ control over our phones. Apple would bring the iPhone to the company that agreed to keep its feet off the Apple-built front of the phone, AT&T (then Cingular) agreed, and the rest is history.
Now Apple is about to do it again.
For some eSIMs
With the iPhone 14 models, Apple is using its weight to drive adoption of a new technology: eSIMs. For years, all cell phones included a small smart card called a SIM that contained the “identity” of those devices so they could connect to the cellular network. Over time, it became superfluous – this information can be easily stored on devices and even transferred from device to device. And so someone invented the eSIM, which did just that, and SIMs were destined for doom.
(As with many new technologies, Apple wasn’t the first to market an eSIM-enabled phone. Samsung seems to have won that distinction.)
But the world is slowly changing, and it is very easy to carry on doing business as usual. So even though eSIMs are becoming more and more popular, a SIM is still required in many countries. Carriers seem concerned that eliminating the need for a physical card will make it easier for customers to switch networks. But mostly, I think they fear change. And you don’t want to do the extra work of changing if they don’t have to.
Do you hear those steps? Godzilla is coming.
Apple forces change
Not all iPhone 14 devices sold in the US come with a SIM card slot. It is not there. This will have a strong impact on wireless carriers around the world. Here in the US, it will stimulate the adoption of eSIMs. iPhone users have been able to use an eSIM since new models were introduced in 2018, but 100% of iPhone 14 upgrades will have to switch.
(Apple has been pushing users in this direction for a while, with modern phones charging without any SIM card installed. Users can add one themselves, of course, but it’s very easy to give up.)
Of course, Americans also travel, and given the large market share of the iPhone, that will increase the demand for eSIMs. Carriers in other countries that enjoy selling SIM cards to tourists will need to get comfortable with eSIMs if they haven’t already. The ball will continue to roll. eSIMs will continue on their path to inevitable.
Apple benefits… in the end
In the long run, it’s clear that Apple will want to stop creating SIM slots in any iPhone models. However, in the short term, it can’t do that – so it makes two different versions of its phones, for the US and the rest of the world. (This isn’t new, Apple has been making great iPhones with dual SIM slots for the Chinese market for a while, believe it or not.)
In the long run, removing the slot will be beneficial to Apple because it eliminates another potential point of entry for water and dust, a tiny metal SIM slot, and the space inside the iPhone case meant to read the SIM card.
Unfortunately, in the short term, there is almost no benefit to Apple. The company can’t make two completely different designs for the iPhone’s internals, one for the US and one for the others. That’s why, when iFixIt tore up the iPhone 14 Pro, it found a small plastic spacer where the SIM socket was supposed to be. Until the ubiquitous SIM is defeated, it will still complicate the design of the iPhone.
But now that Apple is starting to push, the defeat of the SIM is inevitable. The townspeople can’t fight Godzilla – all they have to do is get out of his way.
Where then, you monster?
This year we’ve seen Apple’s influence take hold in a few other interesting areas. Certainly, the announcement of emergency SOS over satellite has changed the game in terms of satellite data services for consumer cellular devices. Elon Musk and T-Mobile went so far as to pre-empt Apple’s announcement with their own press conference, announcing that SpaceX’s Starlink service would eventually work with T-Mobile’s wireless network to fill in carrier gaps.
Given that Apple has purchased 85% of its partner Globalstar’s satellite network capacity, there is no doubt that there will be a run on satellite capacity – and a lot of new data satellites will have to be launched. (Apple’s satellite connection comes via a Qualcomm 5G modem chip, but while its competitors can buy the chip, they’ll need to find somewhere to buy limited satellite data resources in the meantime.)
As the operator of two of the world’s most popular computing platforms, Apple is putting so much into the new WebAuthn standard – which it calls Apple Passkeys – that widespread adoption of that standard is a reality, especially given that Google and Microsoft have stepped on board. Likewise, Matter’s new standard for smart home devices has given Apple and some of its big competitors a declaration of peace and assurance that the new standard will reach the finish line.
So what’s the next step in terms of Apple’s moves to change the world? Unfortunately, Godzilla does not respond to his voicemail messages.