When it comes to business, relationships matter. Companies like to own you, the consumer, and they’ll figure out ways on how to make sure that the bonds they make are as difficult to break as the law allows. Why do you think the smartphones operators sell are locked to their network? Should you want to sell your handset, the operator will still get money from the person who opens an account with said operator to use said device. In some markets things are a bit different, operators sell unlocked devices and they don’t even bother tweaking the software on the device, but they still got you by the balls because you pay them to use their SIM card to access their services. Calls to other people who happen to be on the same network are cheaper for a reason. Apple, looking to control the complete user experience of their products, filed a patent for what’s known as a “virtual SIM card”.
The permise is simple. You go to a store, buy an iPhone, iPad, or whatever future device Apple intends to sell with embedded cellular connectivity, you take it home, and then when you first power it on it asks you to select which operator you’d like to use as your service provider. There’s also a second benefit to opting to go virtual instead of physical for the SIM card, the ability to make devices that are even thinner and smaller. Apple insisted on going with microSIM cards starting with the iPhone 4 and with the iPads to make them as small as they are today. Take the SIM card out completely and you can only imagine what Jonny Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple, can come up with in terms of future products.
If you’re an operator, chances are you’re freaking out right about now since Apple is basically saying they don’t want to deal with you anymore, that they just want you to be a silly little pipe. As with any Apple patent story we cover, realize that just because Apple patented an idea, doesn’t mean it’ll come to market. And if it does, there’s no word as to when.