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Latest iPad Pro Makes It Even Easier to Switch Wireless Carriers

The new iPad Pro has an embedded version of Apple's custom SIM card to support use on more than 100 networks worldwide.


Hidden inside Apple’s new iPad Pro is a tiny component that could help further erode the notion of devices being tied to just one network.

The cellular versions of the new 9.7-inch tablet will ship with the built-in ability to let consumers choose a local carrier in roughly 100 different countries when traveling overseas.

Re/code has confirmed the embedded Apple SIM will be present on all cellular-equipped versions of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, with the exception of those sold in China.

Apple has had its own custom Apple SIM in iPads since 2014, but that Apple SIM was an actual SIM card that was removable. Plus, some carriers chose to tie devices to their own networks. Verizon, meanwhile, required customers to replace the Apple SIM with a Verizon SIM to operate on its network.

The new iPad packs both the built-in electronic equivalent of a SIM card as well as a traditional card slot that consumers can use to add additional carrier options beyond those supported by Apple. (Of course, it’s worth remembering that not all iPads are capable of connecting to cellphone networks. Apple charges an extra $130 for cellular versions of the iPad, compared to the Wi-Fi-only models.)

Once again, though, while Apple is trying to give users easy built-in options, not all service providers are keen on the notion.

T-Mobile and Sprint are fully supporting the built-in Apple SIM feature. AT&T, however, will tie the Apple SIM to its network if you buy your iPad at one of its retail stores. Verizon, meanwhile, will require a separate SIM card and disable the built-in embedded Apple SIM on the iPads it sells.

That means the Apple SIM feature will be most useful for those who are fine with the two smaller U.S. carriers, those outside the U.S. and for business people and jet-setters who frequently travel abroad. T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T also let those traveling to the United States purchase service on their networks.

The ability to choose among multiple carriers from a single device is not unique to Apple, but it is definitely not the norm in the U.S., where carriers continue to play a big role and many devices are sold within the providers’ retail stores.

Apple and others would love to see a world in which customers could dynamically choose among providers, while the cellular carriers naturally prefer that customers activate on a single network and stay on that carrier for the life of the device.

Things are moving undeniably toward more choice, though even Apple has been forced by the carriers to move cautiously.

Other hints of this more open world come from Google’s Fi service, which uses a custom SIM card that lets devices move dynamically between Sprint and T-Mobile’s network.

One development that could help accelerate the move toward flexibility is the shift, illustrated by the new embedded Apple SIM, toward replacing the physical chip with software.

The real question, since the advent of Apple SIM in 2014, is whether Apple will be able to wield enough muscle to get carriers to give phone customers an easy way to switch providers as often as they want.

In an ideal world, things like Apple SIM would lead to a marketplace where consumers have choice, more control over their service and leverage over carriers. But in the meantime, one of the main benefits of Apple SIM is making it easier for Apple and third-party retailers to avoid having to stock a bunch of different versions for each cellular network.

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