Apple iPad’s Micro-SIMs Accused of Lock-In

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Apple’s choice of a little-used micro-SIM standard in its iPad could reveal which operators stand to get the device – and profit from locking users in

Apple iPad users will have a limited choice of operators if they want mobile broadband, as Apple has opted for an obscure mobile standard specifying micro-SIMs different from any other device in its newly launched tablet device.

Apple’s decision to opt for the relatively new micro-SIM to serve the iPad’s 3G functionality has helped fuel rumours about UK operators for the device, since both O2 and Orange have both placed large orders for the micro SIM cards with SIM supplier Gemalto.

This could mean that these two UK operators are leading the pack to be the first to land the iPad.

However the use of micro-SIMs means that, even if the iPad arrives unlocked in the UK, users will be forced to buy the cards from specific mobile operators to ensure 3G connectivity for their device – even though Apple boss Steve Jobs specifically bragged that the iPad will be sold unlocked.

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Consumers will in effect be presented with a classic Hobson’s Choice. Users will not be able to take the 3G SIM out of their mobile phones for example, and put it into the iPad for (essentially) free mobile browsing. Instead, they will be forced to get a micro SIM from a mobile operator.

The move should also secure Apple and its chosen international mobile carriers, a healthy revenue stream.

The iPad comes in two versions – one with Wi-Fi and the other with both Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities. The Wi-Fi-enabled version of the iPad will be available worldwide in late March for a recommended retail price of $499 (£307) for the basic 16GB model. The 32GB model will sell for $599 (£369), and the 64GB model will cost $699 (£430).

That said, the iPad does come with Bluetooth, but it is unlikely iPad will support Bluetooth tethering to a smartphone.