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Apple Proposes Smaller SIM Card Design 198

Posted by timothy
from the microchip-limbo dept.
An anonymous reader writes with word that Apple, as reported by Reuters, has proposed a smaller SIM card standard. Says the Orange executive quoted, "We were quite happy to see last week that Apple has submitted a new requirement to (European telecoms standards body) ETSI for a smaller SIM form factor -- smaller than the one that goes in iPhone 4 and iPad." Hard to believe that any phone designed for the human hand could be much limited by the size of the current micro-SIMs, but this is one race to the bottom I'm pleased with.
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Apple Proposes Smaller SIM Card Design

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  • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:31PM (#36172800)

    as seen on Futurama....

    I wonder if they'll sport the "As Seen On TV" on them?

  • Thinner devices? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    That is the justification for the need for smaller sim cards. Frankly, the sim card is thin enough (I'm sure it could be thinner, but it is still much thinner than the device). And all that is used is a bunch of contacts from the sim. I fail to see how a smaller sim card would do away with much of the thickness.

    • by v1 (525388)

      Look at SD cards, compared to say, usb flash drives or even floppies. I'm sure they were scoffed at for being inconveniently small at the time.

      Now look at the Micro SD cards. They took something that some already thought was too small, and made it a LOT smaller. ok, THAT is getting into my area of "inconveniently small", but yet here we have them and they're popular in small devices like cell phones. A smaller sim card is just the same way, it's just the next step, not the last.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tophermeyer (1573841)

        If SIM's get down to the size of MicroSD (or smaller) they will be out of the range of sizes that average users will be able to handle themselves. To me this sounds a lot like Apple trying to create some kind of lock-in, where users are completely free to replace their SIM but not realistically able to.

      • Afaict microsims are already as small as microSD, making them even smaller will make them very awkward to handle.

        Not a big deal for those who live in one country and use one SIM all the time but a very big deal for those who travel and want to swap sims to get a deal that is decent locally.

        • by rta (559125)

          The use-cases around sim cards already suck.

          a) Why do I have to remove my battery in order to swap my sim card ? (on a G2, but also on my G1 and my blackberry Pearl). some security is good so that someone can't easily swipe my sim card, but there's NO reason why these things shouldn't be physically hot swappable in devices (as smart cards are already hot swappable electrically and in terms of interface )

          b) Why don't phones support multiple sim cards concurrently ? Perhaps, you know... your business l

          • a) Worldwide, the vast majority of cell users never swap their SIMS so changing a design and implementing a new locking mechanism that won't accidentally eject the SIM when dropped isn't worth the designers' time.

            There is also an element of security in the design. If someone steals my handset, they can't switch to another SIM without going through my PIN to start the phone.

            b) Google dual-SIM phones sometime. There are a number out there for precisely this use. Maybe they're not available in your country,

            • It's also simpler and cheaper (& probably more robust) to make use of an an opening that's already there rather than make a new one.

              I'll tell you what *does* annoy me though - phones that won't do anything at all if there's no SIM present.

  • Dare I say it? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by newcastlejon (1483695) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:35PM (#36172822)

    This has less to do with practical concerns about footprint and more about making sim-swapping even harder. Are they really saying a ~1cm^2 SIM is too big, even in an iPad?

    Karma be damned, Apple only need that bulky SIM holder because there isn't a user-replaceable battery and its associated cover. I've had enough other brand phones to see that there are better (i.e. smaller) ways to hold a SIM.

    • Re:Dare I say it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ModernGeek (601932) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:41PM (#36172862) Homepage
      I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower, but I suppose that is just dreaming.
      • Re:Dare I say it? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Bogtha (906264) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:48PM (#36172908)
        Apple have patented something along those lines and the carriers weren't happy about it.
      • by mjwx (966435)

        I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower, but I suppose that is just dreaming.

        The security implications make this less then desirable.

        Yes it is securable enough to work, in theory (using PKI)...

        But in reality, where telco's won't even enforce security on voicemail (I call my voicemail from overseas all the time, I only need to enter my Australian phone number) and the average person doesn't give a crap about keeping their private key secure. When an attacker only needs 2 minutes to grab a phone, copy the private key and return it the average person wont even notice it's missing

        • by bhtooefr (649901)

          On CDMA phones, the MEID (equivalent to IMEI, and I believe exists in the same pool) is the sole unique identifier of the phone. (It is spoofable, but even possessing the tools to spoof it is a felony, if they want to go after you for it.)

          The phone has the MEID, MDN (phone number), and MIN (an internal number that can be different from the MDN, and with cell number porting, is quite often different) stored on it. It authenticates to the tower with that information.

          The tower checks whether the MEID, MDN, and

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower,

        Sounds spoofable.

      • I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower, but I suppose that is just dreaming.

        Similar to the good old days of the ESN (think Analog, TDMA, CDMA)? Granted, the ESN was printed right in the back of the thing, and all someone needed was a few minutes to get that (at most) and cloning isn't far behind--not that the GSM method is unclonable, but really, it's more often going to be easier to just yoink someone's SIM and use it while you can.

        You also lose the benefit of being able to just switch to a different phone on your own if the identifier is a value stored in the phone--every phone

      • I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower

        I don't even want the tower...
        http://www.servalproject.org/how-it-works [servalproject.org]

      • by Mr_Silver (213637)

        I'd rather have a phone that has a software-swappable identifier that handshakes with the tower, but I suppose that is just dreaming.

        I don't. If it's in software then it can be locked down and I can be forced by either the current carrier and/or the hardware manufacturer to jump through additional (probably costly) hoops to change carrier.

        I can replace a SIM with any carrier I like, at any time I like, at no additional cost to me (beyond buying the SIM and the minutes/data for the carrier I want to use) and

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bogtha (906264)

      Apple only need that bulky SIM holder because there isn't a user-replaceable battery and its associated cover.

      User-replaceable batteries take up more space. They need extra casing and catches that are otherwise unnecessary.

      Hardware SIMs are an annoyance. They should be replaced by software, in which case they would take up no room at all.

      • Yes, but you can carry a replacement battery in your pocket so when your battery is flat, you are not stuck on the freeway with no navigation.

        There is NO chance of me buying a phone if I cant carry a spare battery.

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          Yes, but you can carry a replacement battery in your pocket so when your battery is flat, you are not stuck on the freeway with no navigation.

          If you're in your car, why can't you just plug in your mobile charger?

        • There are a whole bunch of iPhone-compatible external battery packs, with some even acting as cases. Sure, they're not ideal, but they do have the added advantage that you don't need to turn the phone off and fiddle with removable parts when you need a power boost.

          Also, if you're on the motorway, you're probably better off relying on a car charger than additional batteries. If you get a USB one, you can charge almost anything off them.

    • Re:Dare I say it? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @08:11PM (#36173092)

      Are they really saying a ~1cm^2 SIM is too big, even in an iPad?

      A physically smaller, but otherwise identical, SIM card would be easy for most vendors to get behind. Reduced z-height and board area would be welcomed, considering that the average SIM card is mostly plastic and larger in all 3 dimensions than the average microSD card. And yes, all manufacturers take those parameters into consideration.

      I've had enough other brand phones to see that there are better (i.e. smaller) ways to hold a SIM.

        But no way to reduce the physical, internal footprint of the SIM card itself, short of eliminating all the plastic and soldering it in entirely or redesigning the packaging (which is mostly plastic and huge contacts.)

    • Re:Dare I say it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by taharvey (625577) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @09:20PM (#36173720)

      Snore.... Slashdot is paranoid about Apple, like teabaggers are about taxes.

      Nothing about Apples motives here have anything to do with exclusivity. That is why Apple is leading the way with a standards body. Apple is not the conspiracy that Slashdot makes it out to be. Apple is easy to understand, and their motive is always been clear:

      1. Sure they are insanely profitable and have a somewhat walled garden. But to see this as greed is to totally misunderstand Apple culture and Steve Jobs. It is all about Idealism and designing the "one perfect thing". In fact, Steve Jobs idealism for making "beautiful devices" that will "change the world" far outstrips any profit motive he has.

      2. Sealed batteries, smaller sim cards and the like are critical paths to Apple's future product plans. Just like technological advances enables product development, Apple sees industrial design and packaging on a equal footing with technology. They have conceptual products they are laying the groundwork for years in advance. Don't look at the current need look at the possible needs down the road.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      Consider the simple fact that the standard Sim card is larger that the A4 processor in the iphone I would say yes.

      Think of all that wasted space since the SIM usually only has a couple of Megs of storage too. A Mini SIM that the current iPhone uses is nearly 30% the size of of the A4 processor. and the same size as my 4GB microSD.

    • by ergean (582285)

      Have you seen the size of a normal sim and it's holding cradle in most of the phones? In my nokia the sim holder is more then 3 time the size of the sim, not considering the underlining connectors and the structure around it. It may seem small, but it ads up.
      I hate small phones, but I think if you could make a smaller sim, it could be better.

    • by Xest (935314)

      There was trend in Europe some years back with phones where smaller was cooler. Back then we had phones that absolutely dwarfed the bricks (slang for large phones) companies are chucking out now. Obviously the increase in phone size now is partly out of necessity, you need a bigger phone for a reasonable sized touch screen for it to be useful for example, but ultimately SIM size was never a limiting factor back then, and there's no reason it would possible be a limiting factor now.

      This is almost certainly a

    • I'd wager that the space gained by not having to accomodate a removable battery is greater than the space lost by having to accommodate a larger SIM tray.

      I've had to swap SIMs on a lot of phones (more than my fair share), so I've seen a lot of different methods of securing a SIM. Despite the fact that it requires a tool, the iPhone 4's tray is one of my favourites. No sharp edges, no fingernails, no scratched or bent SIMs, no moments of panic when it seems that the SIM just won't come out, and no SIMs fly

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:36PM (#36172824) Journal

    The real issue is not the 2D dimensions, but rather the thickness of the card. You can only make a set of pressure contacts so thin. At some point, I suspect we'll see SIM cards that are thicker, but have their contacts running down the edge of the card instead of across the face, thus reducing the plausible device thickness from about a quarter inch to about a millimeter (if you ignore all the other components that are thicker than a SIM card tray...).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Dear Apple,

      Shrink things that an everyday user will never handle.

      Sincerely, Users
      PS: That is, unless you somehow plan on profiting from the number that will be lost, dropped, damaged because of our fat sausage fingers

  • by youn (1516637) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:42PM (#36172870) Homepage

    There is already extra space in most phones today. There is a point with phones where they are getting too small; I actually expect the desire for smarter phones bring phone sizes bigger actually

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Is there extra space? Every teardown I see of the newest smartphone or tablet seems like it's 99% battery, with some electronics squeeze in around the edges.

      Which is not to say that shrinking the SIM card will make a noticeable difference in battery life. I'm pretty sure this is the Apple-equivalent of OOXML.

    • *looks at my Dell Streak* Yeah... I could really do with a few more inches of screen space...

    • by Ixokai (443555)

      Uhh, not really, no. http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPhone-4-Teardown/3130/1 [ifixit.com]

      Apple devices are very densely packed: they're the ones who are pushing for this, so other "phones" don't matter -- its not like they're pushing to mandate everyone use these.

      Yeah, the Micro SIM is pretty small: its getting small enough that it might be a pain for some people to handle if it gets smaller. But Apple doesn't care -- and not for absurd paranoid rantings about this being a lock-in attempt (seriously? This would be the l

    • The HTC Desire HD is almost a little too big. But yes, you are quite right: it's very nice having such a big screen on a PDA phone. :)
  • what do you gain from having a smaller package ?

    incompatibility with other phones and thats about it...

    the package size does not impact significantly on phone design at all this is simply a case of laziness.. design around it

    operators simply have no say it seems any more...

    have fun and watch your bottom line disappear operators...

    regards

    John Jones

  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:50PM (#36172928)

    I remember something like this in the past.

    We have sim cards which work with pretty much everything, EXCEPT the iPhone. So the solution was either to buy a smaller sim or just grab a pair of scissors and remove some of the plastic yourself, while the career that had exclusivity was heavily advertising that it has these new high-tech simcards.

    I'm sure its not because we're running out of space. At all. Its for exclusivity.

    • MicroSIM? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by WiiVault (1039946)
      I assume your not trying to call the standardized MicroSIM an evil plot by Apple. Sometimes I wonder why some folks can't just be happy criticizing Apple for all the real crap they do and must instead make up absurd new conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact.
      • by mellon (7048)

        I don't really care whether it's an evil plot or not. I don't care whether it's a "standard" or not. The only cell phone manufacturer that I know of that uses MicroSIMs is Apple. This means that when you go to buy a MicroSIM, they don't have it. This is a royal PITA. It's not a question of criticizing Apple; it's a question of convenience. When I'm traveling, I want to be able to buy a SIM and put it in my phone, not buy a SIM, spent 20 minutes with my swiss army knife cutting it down and shavin

        • by WiiVault (1039946)

          I don't really care whether it's an evil plot or not. I don't care whether it's a "standard" or not. The only cell phone manufacturer that I know of that uses MicroSIMs is Apple. This means that when you go to buy a MicroSIM, they don't have it. This is a royal PITA.

          Seems fair to me, I've personally never used a microsim, but I can see the issue presented by you. Obviously adapters only work one way too which makes your scenario a pain indeed. My post wasn't addressing the potential benefits or issues with SIM vs. MicroSIM, I just wanted to dispel any conspiracy conceptions that microSIM was some sort of Apple controlled walled-garden style lock-in.

        • Yes, we mustn't have progress and should all be using credit card sized sims like in the good old days.
          • by hedwards (940851)

            But, this isn't the old days, and most handset manufacturers seem to be able to handle the regular SIMs just fine, you know the ones that approximately the same size as an SD card. So, going to micro SD might plausibly have some benefit, but at this point there's no legitimate reason for going any smaller since the real thing taking up all the space is electronics and battery, eliminating the SIM entirely just isn't going to save enough space to make creating a new format worthwhile.

          • by cbope (130292)

            The credit card size has not been widely used in mobile phones since the mid-90's or so. Are you trying to imply that the most popular mini-SIM size is too large for a modern mobile phone? Practically every other component in a mobile phone is many times larger than the mini-SIM format, think batteries, LCD display, keypad, etc.

            There is no real need for a smaller SIM standard, other than planned obsolescence by forcing people to buy new phones if the new card format is not backwards compatible.

        • The only cell phone manufacturer that I know of that uses MicroSIMs is Apple.

          Back in the day, the only computer manufacturer that I knew of that used USB ports was Apple.

          Are you still using a serial mouse with a DB-25 connector?

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by qubezz (520511)

            Apple first with USB? PCs had them a year before [google.com] the iMac [wikipedia.org]. Plus back in the day, the only portable music player that would dare use firewire was the iPod [macworld.com].

            Apple Computer is [fastcompany.com] the [sony.net] new [minidisc.org] Sony [sony.com] for proprietary [lowendmac.com] f-you lock-in [macsales.com].

            Are you still using your Apple Bus Mouse with an ADB [wikipedia.org] connector?

            • by rylin (688457)

              The iMac was the first computer with USB as the only peripheral connector- i.e., no serial port, no parallel port et.c.
              The difference between portable music players back in the day was that one took two seconds to transfer a song, others took around a minute.

              Which would you prefer?

        • by necro81 (917438)
          The only difference between a standard-sized SIM and microSIM is the amount of plastic put around the actual chip. It is straightforward to slice and dice [engadget.com] a standard SIM down to micro-SIM. It's not like the carrier is going to ask for it back. Maybe I would find it a pain in the ass if I were doing it every time I went on a business trip, but in that case I would probably have a multiple-SIM world phone (probably a blackberry) anyway.
      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        Hardly accusing apple of a conspiracy. You're right MicroSIM is a standard. But it's also a standard that is almost exclusively used by Apple. There are many smaller lighter and equally powerful smartphones on the market, yet only apple has a problem with the size of it's already smaller than everyone else's SIMcard?

        Please.

        Apple are bitchy because they don't allow removable covers on their phones which would allow them to place the SIM slot on the motherboard which would dramatically cut the footprint of th

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        I thought microSIMs were Apple-only, until I ran into a Chinese smartphone that used it (and ran Android - AOSP).

        We had to do some development work on it that involved actually having to solder wires to the phone to a standard SIM socket so our SIM tester could use it.

        And why are people complaining about handling these SIM cards? The average user may really only handle their phone twice - the first time to install it after buying the phone, and second to remove it for their new phone. Are people really hand

    • Have you seen the size of the iPhone 4's circuit board? It's tiny and border to border filled efficiently with few components. The sim slot uses a huge percentage of space. http://news.cnet.com/i/tim//2010/06/22/apple-iphone-4-logic-board.jpg [cnet.com]
  • To me that kinda sounds like they're just pushing for a new SIM form factor so they can have a say in designing the internals of the new card. The first thing I thought was "hey brilliant now we can store user location data on an encrypted part of the SIM card that no user has access to". I'd also think they would probably introduce some kind of proprietary technology or design dogma that no other manufacturer can live up to or integrate without actually asking Apple for permission or license (think ultra-f
  • Think about what you would have if you used the standard SIM, a regular (full size) SD card slot (or, for that matter, Compact Flash), removable batteries in a AA form factor, a mini (not micro) USB connector, and you designed a phone.
    You would have Junk.
    Of course, the right solution is to do away with SIM itself, but the carriers are too scared of that.

    • by _merlin (160982)

      Actually the carriers would be very happy to do away with the SIM. That would make it harder to switch carriers, so they would get the customer lock-in they crave. It's only EU competition laws that force them to allow swappable SIMs.

  • They're not thinking about this for what we're currently call a "phone". They're looking at very small form factor devices which keep their data in the cloud, are configured by another (arbitrary) device which talks to the same cloud, and which make either sporadic or continual data connections with whatever available networks they find, to keep up to date. Imagine very small devices (wristwatches, eyeglasses, earplugs) with 802.11/UMTS/WiMAX radios (which use a mini-sim to identify themselves to whichev

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Some neat, and somewhat scary ideas, but I still don't see it. Anything with a wireless modem sucks down juice, so they'll need a battery much larger than a microSIM, rendering the whole argument rather pointless. At least until we get miracle batteries, or resurrect Tesla and get him working on that wireless power and perpetual motion stuff.

      • by l3v1 (787564)
        Exactly what I was thinking when I read the earplugs with a SIM in them lines above. Unless the plug is wired to your brain and you supply it with electricity and the antenna runs through your skull, an earplug as a gsm/3g/etc. connected smart device is fairly out of question for a very long while. Wrist-devices - with acceptable size and weight which is very important issue here - are still far off because of current battery tech (not talking about theretical, but real working produced). Well, they might r
  • The current two sizes are identical in wiring.

    If Apple can force a new format, they can implement new features, maybe good (ie flash memory, multiple sims in one) or bad ... DRM and I don't know what else
    • by txoof (553270)

      Among other reasons such as wasted space with the sim-tray hardware, I suspect this has something to do with the sim card unlockers [pcworld.com] that slide into the sim card tray along with a standard sim card. A smaller sim foot print would make such devices much harder to engineer.

  • sure apple. i lol'd.
  • Maybe apple is designing devices that need a smaller surface area for the card. Like a phone in a stylus that captures conversations with a microphone array, handwriting with a gyroscope and document content with a stereo camera and projected infrared grid.

    IPen anyone?

  • but this is one race to the bottom I'm pleased with.

    Bad: Well, I'm not. It disturbingly seems they want to get to the SIM being integrated into the board, so you buy the phone/device with the contract and not the SIM, and you won't be able to change SIMs in a phone/device.

    Neutral: Well, they might want to put more SIMs in a device (not just phone), but come on, most of the devices that would accomodate and be useful for such application are large enough to host multiple current size SIMs as well.

    Thin
  • Zero would be the smallest possible size.

  • ... probably for the iphone 6 they'll propose a completely new idea of burning the SIM data directly into the phone, saving the space for the card reader alltogether, and at the same time allowing for an even better carrier-lock-in than the current solution has. Which of course means the carriers will love it. No more sim/netlock breaking possible anymore.

    Hm ... Wait ... wasn't there a wireless network that already did that? ;)

  • Dear Apple,

    If your hardware designers are too dumb or lazy to be able to accommodate the already-small size of either a standard or micro-SIM card, please go play somewhere else and stop interfering with the mobile phone market. There is a reason why SIM's are a standard size, even the micro-SIM was a stupid idea mainly pushed on us by you.

    Thanks
    - - -

    I have multiple phones, and switch SIM cards between them. I can also go to any kiosk or corner store and buy pre-paid SIM cards. This is commonplace in Europe

  • http://www.smartcardstrends.com/det_atc.php?idu=287 [smartcardstrends.com]

    ETSI project Smart Card Platform (EP SCP) at their recent plenary meeting agreed to the introduction of a new smart card, which is half the size of the existing Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card.

    Market forces are behind the decision; there are already many data-only GSM terminals on the market, many of them using the familiar PC-card form factor. However, with the development of even smaller terminals, the point may soon be reached where the plug-in card occupies too much volume in the terminal, especially in those devices whose secondary purpose will be to communicate, such as digital cameras or watches.

    The work item for the so-called Third Form Factor, "3FF", was agreed, after intensive discussions, at the SCP meeting held last week in London. Historically, there are already two form factors, the full credit card-sized card and the postage stamp-sized plug-in card. The latter is the norm for GSM terminals, a market that has now seen more than 2 billion smart cards deployed.

    December 8, 2003.

  • this is one race to the bottom I'm pleased with

    Clarify please. Is there a specific bottom that you're pleased with[1] and there's a race to it? Or are you entranced by some aspect of the competition to arrive in Assville?

    [1] This is Apple, after all.

  • This isn't really about making the SIM card smaller, it's about dropping compatibility with the ancient (early nineties!) chip on old SIM cards, with the slow interface and the small memory. Not to mention the limited security.

The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives. -- Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project

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