The new iPhone 14 lineup will ship without physical SIM trays — at least in the US. They can use two eSIMs at once (and have more storage), but is the lack of a physical tray a big deal? And is it consumer-hostile and stupid?
First, a refresher on eSIMs: they are SIM cards, but electronic, not physical. That means your phone can be provisioned remotely — no more going to the store to get a physical SIM. This makes it easier (in some ways) to switch networks or try one — T-Mobile now uses eSIMs, allowing people to test its network for up to three months. As of iOS 16, you can transfer your eSIM between iPhones via Bluetooth, as easily as a physical SIM as long as you’re in the Apple ecosystem. However.
Most major US carriers and most of the world support eSIM, and iPhones from 2018 support them, including the ability to use two SIMs at once. Up to iPhone 13, that means one eSIM and one physical SIM; The iPhone 13 family introduced the ability to use two eSIMs simultaneously. Removing the physical SIM — and the hole in case it’s needed — 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 switch carriers or switch phones, you can download an eSIM directly from Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile without going to the store. But if you’re on an MVNO or reseller that doesn’t support eSIM, or you’re planning to switch to one, you shouldn’t get the iPhone 14 right now. You may not have to wait long; This could be the push that smaller carriers need to get on board with eSIMs.
It’s important to note that iPhones can store multiple eSIMs, but only two can be active at a time. Apple doesn’t say how many eSIMs you can store in an iPhone, but global eSIM reseller Airolo says it ranges from five to ten, depending on the model. This may take some of the loss of the physical SIM tray. (I haven’t used Airolo and can’t vouch for them, but having a local eSIM remotely provided eliminates the hassle of finding a local SIM when traveling abroad.) The ability to have more than one active SIM is great. Frequent flyers, people who live in areas where any one network has spotty coverage, or people who have different 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. That means whether I’m in Europe or the US, I can use a local SIM without losing access to my other number or messing with my iMessage or WhatsApp settings.
Physical SIMs make it easy to port your phone to a different carrier or port your number to a new phone. They’re ubiquitous, work on all phones, and are easy enough to use (even easy to lose; ask me how I know), and most of my colleagues never thought about losing a SIM slot. Moving an eSIM from an iPhone to an Android phone is not trivial. I don’t think it means removing the SIM tray necessarily User-hostile to many; Most people don’t switch carriers or phones every few weeks. But it depends on how easy providers make it to install and migrate eSIMs across platforms. Let’s see how it plays out.