The new iPhone 14 lineup will ship without physical SIM trays, but only in the United States. They’ll be able to use two eSIMs at once (and store more than that), but is the lack of a physical tray a big deal? And is it user-unfriendly and dumb?
First, a reminder about eSIMs: they are SIM cards, but electronic, not physical. This means your phone can be provisioned remotely – no more going to a store to get a physical SIM card. This makes it easier (in some ways) to switch networks or try one out – T-Mobile now uses eSIMs to allow people to test its network for up to three months. As of iOS 16, you can even transfer your eSIM between iPhones via Bluetooth, which should make it almost as easy as a physical SIM card, as long as you stay within the Apple ecosystem. Sure.
Most major US carriers, and many others around the world, support eSIMs, and iPhones have supported them since 2018, including the ability to use two SIM cards at once. Until iPhone 13, this meant an eSIM and a physical SIM card; the iPhone 13 family introduced the ability to use two eSIMs at the same time. Removing the physical SIM card – and the hole in the case it needs – is the next logical step. At least for Apple, and at least in the US – the iPhone 14 still has a SIM tray everywhere else.
If you’re on a major US cellphone network — AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile — the lack of a physical SIM tray probably won’t have much of an impact on you. Even if you change carriers or phones, you can download an eSIM directly from Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile without visiting a store.
But if you’re on a carrier that doesn’t support eSIM or are planning to upgrade to one, well, you shouldn’t get the iPhone 14 just yet. You may not have to wait too long; this could be the push smaller carriers need to get started with eSIMs.
(Outside the US, the iPhone 14 lineup still includes nano-SIM slots.)
At the launch event, Apple spokespersons said The edge that the iPhone 14 and 14 Pro can store at least eight eSIMS, with up to two active at a time. Global eSIM reseller, Airalo, says previous iPhones could hold five to ten, depending on the model. This could partially mitigate the loss of the physical SIM tray, although not all international carriers support eSIMs. (I haven’t used Airalo and can’t vouch for it, but being able to provide a local eSIM remotely when traveling abroad might save you from having to find a local SIM card.)
The ability to have more than one active SIM card is great for frequent travelers, people who live in areas where one network has spotty coverage, or people who have separate work and home numbers. I bought my iPhone 11 when I was living in the Netherlands, and it has both a Dutch eSIM and a physical Verizon SIM card. This meant I could use a local SIM card whether I was in Europe or the US without losing access to my other number or having to change my iMessage or WhatsApp settings.
Physical SIM cards make it easy to transfer your phone to another carrier or transfer your number to a new phone. They’re ubiquitous, work on all phones, and are fairly easy to use (but also easy to lose; ask me how I know). Many of my colleagues are not happy about losing the SIM slot. Moving an eSIM from an iPhone to an Android phone is not necessarily trivial.
I don’t think removing the SIM tray is necessarily user-unfriendly for most people; most people just don’t change carriers or phones every few weeks. But it depends on how easy the providers make it easy to install and migrate eSIMs between platforms. We’ll see how that plays out.
Updated September 7, 4:45 p.m. ET: Added information about eSIM support.
Correction on September 8, 12:06 a.m. ET: The original text of this article misspelled the name of the Airalo eSIM retailer. We regret the error.
Correction on September 10, 9:26 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this article stated that the iPhone 14 could store up to six eSIMs; the 14 and 14 Pro models can store at least eight.
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