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One of the most notable new features of Apple’s iPad Air 2 wasn’t mentioned in the company’s official announcement yesterday, but it’s getting a lot of attention nonetheless. It’s called Apple SIM, and it allows users of the cellular-enabled iPad Air 2 to select short-term wireless data plans from the tablet itself, rather than purchasing a tablet with a SIM card connected to a specific carrier.

ipadair2The move gives consumers more flexibility and puts Apple in a position of greater power, requiring wireless carriers to negotiate directly with the company to be included among the available options for Apple SIM.

The feature works initially with T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T in the U.S., and EE in the U.K. Notably absent is Verizon Wireless, which will offer the iPad Air 2 with a SIM card tied to its network, but isn’t among the initial options for the Apple SIM.

But here’s the big question: Will Apple bring this to iPhone next?

With this initial iPad launch, Apple is testing the business model and technology of software controlled multi-operator SIM cards,” says mobile technology analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Technology in a report this morning. The initial impact will be modest, but if the test is a success, he predicts that Apple could extend the strategy in several ways:

  • “Extend Apple SIM to the iPhone. IHS forecasts Apple will be the second largest handset maker by shipment volume in 2014. If Apple offers Apple SIM on the iPhone because of this scale it will have enormous impacts on the business models of mobile operators.
  • “Make Apple SIM the sole embedded SIM option on iPhone or iPad. Apple may choose to remove the SIM card slot entirely, and embed Apple SIM in future iPhones or iPads as the sole way to connect to mobile networks. In this event, operators will no longer be able to offer their own SIM cards to iPad or iPhone owners.
  • “Lock consumers more into Apple-brand devices. If users have an Apple SIM which either only works with Apple devices, or is non-removable, then it is much harder for users to switch to a Samsung, Sony, Huawei, or HTC cellular device because the user will need to source a new SIM card for their new device. This will reduce churn from Apple device ownership.”

See our earlier coverage for more on the iPad Air 2.

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