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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Could we see a dual-SIM iPhone soon?

After working on this deal for months (and possibly years), Apple and China Mobile today worked out an arrangement for selling iPhone's through the Chinese carrier's network officially.  The stakes have always been high when it comes to securing a deal with China Mobile as they've got a subscriber base of 700 million users which trumps that of any US or European network provider by miles.

China has been one of the largest markets for Apple officially till date and Apple cut the legs off the grey market this year when they released the iPhone 5s and 5c officially in China in the same day as they did in other Tier 1 markets like the United States and the UK.  If there has been one thing Apple CEO Tim Cook has been brutally clear about, it's that China matters and he's made numerous visits to China since taking over as CEO.

Tim Cook at the Foxconn factory in China.
Image: Bloomberg.com

However, reaching an agreement is probably just the first part of the deal.  Taking advantage of that and now building products to attract consumers in China is where the real challenge will come for Apple.  The iPhone 5c was long rumoured to be the "cheap" or "China" iPhone but it turned out what Chinese consumers wanted was the premium iPhone 5s and the 5c wasn't quite as "cheap" as most of us expected.

With the China Mobile deal, Apple though will undoubtedly be looking at the mass market in China and this will mean that they have to probably tailor products to the Chinese market.  One of the first features I think they may have to look at is a dual-SIM iPhone.  This may not be a product we see in the iPhone 5s initially but rather in the iPhone 5c as Apple will look for ways to get wider acceptance for the iPhone 5c.  

Why is a dual-SIM phone needed in China?  Well, if you look at it today, products like the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini come in dual-SIM variations in China (we don't get both these models in a dual-SIM flavour officially yet in the UAE).  Chinese brands like Huawei and Lenovo which have got a strong foothold on the Chinese mobile market also have a variety of dual-SIM models in their line up as well.  Most of these manufacturers have understood that consumers want the freedom to have multiple network operators to choose from and thus it's become common sight to see consumers in countries like China or India carry around more than one mobile phone with them.  Even in the UAE, we've got mobile penetration rates well in excess of 200% as per the TRA.

Beyond the dual-SIM model, it remains to be seen how much more Apple will make changes to their offering in China.  I have a feeling some of these changes may be the type that'll make every Apple fanboy cringe but in the effort to stay competitive in third world countries like China, India and Africa, things will eventually have to be done differently.

So now the question is, will a dual-SIM iPhone have two Nano SIM slots or a Nano SIM and Micro SIM combo?  Over to you Sir Jony Ives and the design team at Apple...

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC