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Apple launch snooze fest oh hello, what's this?

Paul Brislen, Editor. 13 September 2018, 7:02 am

It is a ritual as old as time itself (well, certainly for the past 11 years at least). The pilgrimage to the well of all things - the annual Apple announcement about some new gear.

Sadly a second ritual is becoming apparent - the slight sigh of disillusionment as the digital curtain is whisked back to reveal, well, a slight variation on the iPhone.

This year we have two - the iPhone XS (S being the in-between model refreshes update) and the XS Max which is the size of paperback book.

In a twist on its naming conventions, this year's whisking also introduces the iPhone XR, presumably short for "inexorable" but pronounced in true Apple fashion: Ten Arrr. This then, is the pirate phone.

The XR camera has features that camera folks are cooing over. The battery is better. The screen is nicer. The "notch" in the iPhone X is now standard on this phone as well, and it's available in a range of new colours.

The ridiculously useful thumbprint scanner has been replaced by the face recognition solution Face ID which feels somehow less cool and geeky and more as if you're just lifting your phone up to use, but will no doubt save countless seconds in the pursuit of efficiency so we can be grateful for small mercies.

The current iPhone line up gets a bit of a shuffle in terms of pricing but leaves us with:

iPhone 7

iPhone 8

iPhone XR

iPhone XS

iPhone XS Max

Pricing and availability in New Zealand are yet to be announced.

However, tucked away in the whole launch there is a nugget of news, a soupçon of intrigue. Quietly, Apple has finally launched the product that will terrify the consumer arm of every mobile telco in the world. The eSIM is here at last, if by 'here' you mean the places where eSIMs will work.

For those not familiar with mobile phone technology, the SIM card is the identifier that connects the phone to a particular customer and that customer with a particular network provider. In New Zealand only one SIM is available per mobile phone number (one of the reasons we don't have problems with cloning of phones as happens elsewhere).

Apple has long since driven a huge lever between the customer and the telco and now will pry that relationship apart even further. With an eSIM it becomes the work of but a moment to switch between providers. Your phone can determine which network you should belong to on the day and make the call for you. Today, your calendar might say you're in Sydney for the day, so the phone will migrate you to an Australian service of your choosing. Tomorrow you're in Auckland so back it'll come to the New Zealand network. Perhaps you'll base your choice on network speed and quality, or perhaps on price - the decision will be yours.

Of course, that won't happen immediately. For now, the eSIM is so you can have two numbers for whatever reason you'd want to. In Europe it would work for those country-hopping workers who live on one side of the border and travel regularly to another nation and therefore another network operator, but whether that is allowed remains to be seen. China already bans eSIMs so iPhones sold in the People's Republic will have two SIM card slots - dual SIMs are not uncommon for those travelling between Hong Kong and the mainland.

For Apple's immediate purposes, the eSIM means you should be able to make and receive calls via your iPhone Watch (and a new version of that is on its way also) without needing the adjacent iPhone to power the connection. Whether that is enabled in New Zealand remains to be seen - New Zealand telcos will need to figure out whether breaking "the one number one SIM" model is a good idea or whether it's even technically feasible with our current systems.


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Graham Harris 14 September 2018, 8:10 pm

Forgive my cynicism, but isn't Apple's motivations (and Google's too) to become the telecom retailer, buying minutes on the 'spot market'.

The problem with that is that it removes the commercial incentive for telcos to build quality network infrastructure, since the consumer doesn't even know what network they are on, let alone paying directly for it. Instead, the burden of building quality infrastructure will fall on the nation, and the profits will go offshore.

Henk Roodt 17 September 2018, 10:26 am

I love the eSIM idea. makes for real progress around using Watch and iPhone. The concern around telcos and infrastructure does not really hold. I will use the telco with the best infrastructure in the region. That is similar to what I now do in any event. I have one phone with one SIM that is seldom used (for rural excursions) and one for the rest of the time. The telco that does the job gets my dollars. The dollars remain in NZ if done well, and goes to the telco in the country where I am traveling. I never use roaming, mainly because Spark and Vodafone are outrageously expensive. I always get a SIM in the country I am traveling to, or use the internet directly using a hotspot.

Simple evolution at work.

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