The new iPhone 14 lineup comes without physical SIM trays, but only in the US. They can use two eSIMs at once (and store more than that), but is the lack of a physical tray a big deal? And is it user-hostile and stupid?
First, a refresher on eSIMs: they’re SIM cards, but electronic, not physical. That means your phone can be provisioned remotely — no more going to a store to buy a physical SIM card. This makes it (in some ways) easier to switch networks or try one out – T-Mobile now uses eSIMs to let people test the 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 in the Apple ecosystem. Naturally.
most important US carriers, and many worldwide, have eSIM supportand iPhones support them since 2018, including the ability to use two SIM cards at the same time. Until the iPhone 13, that meant one eSIM and one physical SIM; the iPhone 13 family introduced the ability to use two eSIMs at the same time. Removing the physical SIM card – and the hole in case it needs it – is the next logical step. At least for Apple, and at least in the US – the iPhone 14 still has a SIM card tray everywhere.
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 switch phones, you can download an eSIM directly from Verizon, AT&Tor T-Mobile without going to a store.
But if you have a carrier that doesn’t have eSIM support or if you’re planning to switch to an eSIM, then you shouldn’t buy the 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 eSIMs.
(Outside the US, the iPhone 14 lineup still includes nano-SIM slots.)
Speaking at the launch event, Apple spokespersons said: The edge that the iPhone 14 and 14 Pro can store at least eight eSIMS, up to two of which are active at the same time. Global eSIM reseller Airalo says previous iPhones could hold five to ten, depending on the model. This could take some of the sting out of losing the physical SIM tray, although not all international carriers support eSIMs. (I haven’t used Airalo and can’t vouch for it, but if I can remotely provide a local eSIM when traveling abroad, the hassle of finding a local SIM could go away.)
The ability to have more than one active SIM card is great for frequent travelers, those who live in areas where every network has spotty coverage, or those who have separate work and personal numbers. I bought my iPhone 11 when I lived in the Netherlands and it has both a Dutch eSIM and a physical Verizon SIM card. That meant I could use a local SIM card whether I was in Europe or the US without losing access to my other number or messing with my iMessage or WhatsApp settings.
Physical SIM cards make it easy to move your phone to another carrier or transfer your number to a new phone. They’re ubiquitous, work on all phones, and easy enough to use (but easy to lose too; 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 required user-hostile to most people; most people just don’t switch carriers or phones every few weeks. But that depends on how easy providers make it to install and migrate eSIMs across platforms. We’ll see how this plays out.
Update Sept 7, 4:45 PM ET: Added information about eSIM support.
Correction Sept 8, 12:06 PM ET: In the original text of this article, the name of the eSIM retailer Airalo was misspelled. We regret the mistake.
Correction Sept 10, 9:26 PM ET: An earlier version of this article stated that the iPhone 14 can store up to six eSIMs; both the 14 and 14 Pro models can store at least eight.