Apple has a habit of aggressively removing features in the name of progress. They killed the Mac’s DVD drive while discs were still popular, removed HDMI and MagSafe from MacBook Pros (before they subsequently brought them back), and are, of course, responsible for the demise of the headphone jack. Apple’s decision to now remove the SIM card tray from the iPhone 14 series in favor of eSIM may seem insignificant, but it could end up costing you.
What is eSIM?
If you suspected that eSIM stood for electronic SIM card, then you are wrong, but you would also be on the right track. Instead, it stands for embedded SIM (where SIM itself stands for Subscriber Identity Module), because eSIMs are basically embedded in your device.
Instead of using an external SIM card to connect your iPhone to cellular data, a built-in eSIM can be activated at any time and you can easily switch plans. That gives you the freedom to switch networks at will, just by downloading a new app or signing up for a different service. And because there are no SIM cards to deal with, you don’t risk losing or breaking your eSIM. It lives in your iPhone, it cannot be tampered with.
The iPhone is no stranger to eSIM. All iPhones since the iPhone XS and XR have had eSIM in addition to a traditional SIM option. You can even have both active at the same time, a process known as dual-sim. However, the iPhone 14 lineup marks the first time Apple has ditched physical SIM cards altogether. From now on, we have to rely on built-in SIM cards for our mobile needs.
Why you might not be ready for eSIM-only
Many of us in the US won’t feel the effects of this change much. You still choose your carrier, activate your eSIM and move on. However, for others, buying an iPhone 14 can be expensive.
First, physical SIM cards are still important for those purchasing mobile services from smaller companies. Some no support for eSIMalthough the list has expanded recently, as you can see from this Apple support page. If you subscribe to a carrier that doesn’t offer eSIM support, you won’t be able to use an iPhone 14 – to switch to one of Apple’s brand new iPhones, you’ll also need to switch cellular service.
Even if you have a subscription through a supported carrier, you may have problems traveling abroad. A common travel tactic is to buy a prepaid SIM card in the country you are visiting, as it is often much cheaper than relying on your US cellular carrier. However, you cannot purchase these SIM cards with an iPhone 14. If the country doesn’t support eSIM yet, which many still don’t, you have no choice but to pay the premium to your home network.
That’s not to say eSIMs are inherently anti-tourism. When a country supports eSIM, it may be more convenient than a traditional SIM card to activate a local plan. We even talked about it how an eSIM can be a great option when traveling. The lack of a backup option when a country not eSIM support makes it a potential challenge. Perhaps that is why European iPhone 14 models actually support physical SIM cards. Happy Europeans.
The hope here is that eSIM will now take off in a big way. That’s not just wishful thinking, as Apple does influence tech trends (think of the headphone jack again). It’s very possible that the iPhone 14 will usher in an eSIM revolution, and you’ll find carriers supporting the feature everywhere. The iPhone 14 supports up to eight eSIMs, offering great potential for travelers.
But until then you have to weigh the new features of the iPhone 14 lineup with the drawbacks of living with only eSIM. Are you ready for it? If not, the still excellent iPhone 13 might be the way to go.
This article has been updated to correct which carriers offer eSIM support.