The new iPhone 14 range will ship without physical SIM trays – but only in the US. 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 consumer-hostile and stupid?
First, a refresher on eSIMs: they are SIM cards, but electronic, not physical. This means your phone can be secured remotely — no more going to a store to get a physical SIM card. This makes it easier (in a way) to switch networks or try one out—T-Mobile already uses eSIM to let people test their 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. Of course.
Most major carriers in the US and many around the world have eSIM support, and iPhones have supported them since 2018, including the ability to use two SIM cards at once. Until the iPhone 13, this meant one eSIM and one physical SIM; the iPhone 13 family introduced the ability to use two eSIM cards at the same time. Removing the physical SIM card – and the hole in the case it requires – 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 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 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 have eSIM support or plan to switch to one, well, you shouldn’t be getting an iPhone 14 right now. You may not have to wait too long; this could be the push smaller carriers need to get on board with eSIM.
(Outside the US, the iPhone 14 lineup still includes nano-SIM slots.)
At the launch event, Apple spokespeople said On 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 vendor Airalo says previous iPhones could hold five to 10, depending on the model. This can alleviate some of the loss of the physical SIM, although not all international carriers support eSIM. (I haven’t used Airalo and can’t vouch for them, but being able to remotely provision a local eSIM when traveling abroad can take the hassle out of finding a local SIM.)
The ability to have more than one active SIM card is great for frequent travelers, people who live in areas where each network has patchy coverage, or people who have separate work and personal numbers. I bought my iPhone 11 when I lived in the Netherlands, and it has a Dutch eSIM and a physical Verizon SIM. This meant I could use a local SIM whether I was in Europe or the US without losing access to my other number or having to mess with iMessage or WhatsApp settings.
Physical SIM cards make it easy to port your phone to another carrier or port your number to a new phone. They’re ubiquitous, work on all phones, and are easy enough to use (though easy to lose; ask me how I know). Many of my colleagues are not thrilled about the loss of 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 by all means user-hostile for most people; most people just don’t switch carriers or phones every few weeks. But that depends on how easily providers make it easy to install and migrate eSIMs between platforms. We’ll see how this plays out.
Update September 7, 4:45 PM ET: Added information about eSIM support.
Correction Sept. 8, 12:06 p.m. ET: The original text of this article misspelled the name of eSIM retailer Airalo. Sorry for the mistake.
Correction September 10, 9:26 PM ET: An earlier version of this article stated that the iPhone 14 could store up to six eSIM cards; both the 14 and 14 Pro models can store at least eight.