AARP Eye Center
If you’re a proud owner of one of the new iPhone 14 series models Apple unleashed in September, you might notice that the SIM tray — the removable mechanism on your smartphone that holds your Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) chip card — is missing.
SIM cards link your phone number and account credentials to your service provider. They’re known for being tricky to remove, usually requiring the insertion of a paper clip or other pointy ejector tool into the tiny hole along the edge of the handset.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
But Apple went all digital with embedded SIMs, dubbed eSIMs, on its latest devices. That likely signals that physical SIMs, even in rival brands, could eventually join a list of near-extinct smartphone features, such as memory card slots and user-replaceable batteries.
While the demise of physical SIMs won’t happen right away, many phones now on the market support eSIM technology, including some Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy and other Android operating system devices introduced in the past few years, as well as 2018’s iPhone Xs and Xr models. A notable exception: iPhones sold in mainland China don’t support eSIMs.
Some phones have both
For now, phones can accommodate both physical SIM cards and embedded eSIMs. Some hardware also supports dual SIMs that feature either a single tray for a pair of very small SIM cards — they come in three sizes, standard, micro and nano — or technology that permits one physical SIM and one eSIM already included. The chief benefit here is the ability to run two phone lines on the same device, perhaps one line for business and the other for personal use.
To be sure, most people have gotten by for years without ever having to pull the physical SIM card from a cellphone, which may happen only when you get a new phone, switch wireless carriers or perhaps travel internationally. However, it can be irritating, especially if you accidentally drop the SIM card, insert it wrong, or worse, get it stuck in the phone incorrectly.
“eSIMs are a tremendous improvement for those with physical disabilities who will never again have to deal with tiny little SIM cards and those teeny, tiny SIM card ejection holes,” says tech analyst Avi Greengart of New Jersey-based Techsponential.
Jeff Howard, AT&T’s vice president of hardware and partner solutions, agrees: “From our perspective, we’re looking at it literally as an improvement in customer experience. It does simplify the activation process and allows the control to be right on the device. You don’t have to engage in shipping physical SIM cards; customers don’t have to identify the appropriate hole on the device to insert the tool.”
3 benefits to eSIMs
Even if you haven’t needed to perform SIM surgery, the new technology promises other advantages.