I was contacted yesterday by a journalist from Spanish financial daily Cinco Días to discuss the implications of Apple introducing SIM cards to the iPads it sells in Spain (pdf in Spanish), a topic I touched on back in October.
Could the Apple SIM bring the phone companies to heel?
On October 16, at its October Event 2014, Apple rallied the world’s media and analysts to say that Apple Pay was on…
Apple’s saying nothing: it claims the move is simply to provide the users of its iPad with an option when traveling, and that in no way is it about to take on Spain’s telecommunications operators, who reply anyway that they won’t be working with Apple on this one, given that they’re already collaborating on finding a joint solution.
Nobody wants to see war between a company that makes electronic devices, which just happens to be the largest in the world, and telecoms players responsible for the infrastructure that the owners of these devices rely on to send their data. But the simple truth is that today, an iPad user with an Apple SIM can connect to the internet and immediately without having to ask a telecoms company for a SIM card, but can only choose from operators that Apple offers.
Apple is not taking a commission from the telecoms companies whose services it promotes in this way, and this is a huge step: it’s the first time we can use an internet connected device without having to buy a SIM card, and instead simply choosing an operator from a list. Apple can try to play this down, but what it is doing here is flexing its not inconsiderable muscle, albeit via one of its less-popular devices. But the fact is that it could start loading up its iPhones with SIMs any time it likes.
This is also a blow to the hold that telecoms companies have over roaming, charges that everybody knows are completely unjustified: in Europe, the phone companies’ powerful lobby has managed to delay the end of roaming charges within the EU until 2018. Apple now provides users with something that few people bothered to obtain when they travelled: a local connection at local prices via a local SIM card. So that’s going to make life a lot easier: no more working out the cheapest rates; you just open your computer and you’re connected.
The Apple SIM is, along with Google’s Project Fi, yet another important challenge to the telecoms’ hegemony by the tech sector, a way of forcing change from within: the former is choosing operators to join its virtual mobile network, and the latter chooses them to provide users with a contracting process. In short, changing the market and prompting the appearance of new rules that will force greater competition. Operators are now simply a commodity.
This is the opening salvo in a war between the tech companies and the operators, and although we can expect a long and bitter fight, I know which side I think is going to come out on top.
(En español, aquí)