Amid all the usual hype for thinner screens and bigger resolutions at the latest Apple launch event came a genuine breakthrough for the iPad: a reprogrammable SIM card that can work with multiple carriers.
The iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, which will take over as the most expensive models in the range in full and small sizes respectively, will both support AppleSIM. That means they’ll ship with a preinstalled SIM card that lets users choose between data plans from a range of carriers, with the technical ability to switch between carriers at any time. (Any minimum terms are between you and the carrier.)
At launch the card will support AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the US and EE in the UK. The devices don’t have any technical limitations regarding carriers, so the absence of Verizon appears to be that it hasn’t reached an agreement with Apple. It’s not yet been revealed if any financial arrangements exist between Apple and the carriers.
The idea seems to be not just to make things simpler when shipping iPads to new customers or selling in Apple stores, but to give users more options when travelling, allowing them to switch to a local provider for coverage without even having to replace a SIM. In theory it could also boost competition between carriers to offer the best standalone data deal, both on price and flexibility.
Apple will be selling the cards separately for $5, suggesting they’ll work on older iPads, though model compatibility isn’t confirmed yet.
For now at least the card will remain removable and users will be able to use their own choice of SIM. Naturally there’s already speculation that in future models Apple might want to remove the SIM tray and have the card permanently embedded in the iPad. Of course, that would completely counteract the idea of more choice and instead leave the devices only working with carriers Apple chose to support.