Why Apple tries to impose their nano-SIM design on Motorola, Nokia, and RIM

March 23, 2012
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In the world of today’s superphones, there are two paradigms that all major smartphone manufacturers go by: displays need to be larger (with one, fruity, exception) and the internal components need to be smaller. As it would seem, gaining space inside the smartphone is so important that every single component is constantly redesigned to take up less space, SIM cards included.

Most of you definitely figured this out by now, but the only useful parts of the SIM card are the gold contacts: that’s where the information lives; everything else is just plastic, with no actual utility. The current standard is the micro-SIM card, one that manufacturers are looking to make smaller, by eliminating excess material around the gold contacts. According to preliminary info, the new SIM card standard will be called nano-SIM, and will be 30% smaller (also thinner) than the current standard, micro-SIM.

Apple wants to impose its own standard. But why?

Although manufacturers have agreed that the nano-SIM is necessary, there are two sides when it comes to agreeing on how it should be implemented. In one corner rests Apple’s design of a nano-SIM that requires a drawer, while in the other corner rests a coalition formed by Nokia, RIM, and Motorola, all proponents of a nano-SIM that doesn’t require a drawer.

With preliminary reports suggesting that Apple’s design is backed up by the majority of European operators, many don’t find this an interesting battle, as the design will be openly licensed to all manufacturers out there.

On the other hand, Apple is globally known for their on-going patent jihad (a “thermonuclear war”, if you will), one that, many believe, falls outside of what should be a tech company’s ideology. So, it’s not crazy to think that Apple would use its nano-SIM patents (even the FRAND ones), at some point in the future, to deal blows to its adversaries.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) will vote on a design next week. What’s interesting is that Apple made a move to significantly boost its number of votes in the ETSI, by registering six European subsidiaries with full-vote rights in the commission. If this turns out to be a successful move, Apple will become the biggest voting block in the ETSI, with north of 300 votes. Currently, the biggest voting block  belongs to Nokia, with 92 votes. As you would expect, Nokia officials stated that allowing Apple subsidiaries to become members of ETSI is not something they agree with.

Although this affair might seem mundane to many, it’s obvious that the potential consequences are significant. Otherwise, why would Apple bother to boost up its presence in a standards body?

What’s your take on this? Is it important for one design or another to win when they are basically the same thing?

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