Old Rumors, New Rumors

Supposedly there are updates to Apple’s .Mac service due to be announced tomorrow. I can only hope it’s true, but I’m not sure if I’ll be enraged or depressed if they don’t happen. Fingers crossed.

Speaking of rumors, here’s an idea about the rumor that floated several weeks ago in which it was suggested that Apple might sometime in the future release a smaller, less expensive version of its iPhone in order to reach a wider consumer base.

How to Become a Switcher

I bet that rumor is hogwash, but if I’m wrong and they do release it, here’s one feature I’d like to see — or, what the heck, it’s a feature I bet we’ll see: on-the-fly phone number switching between multiple handsets. This would allow an extremely injudicious, pliant consumer like me to spend more money than anyone really should on mobile telephony and to own more than one model of iPhone. With this feature I’d be able to pick up any of those iPhones — the small one, the big one, the waterproof one, whatever — at any given time and push a button that says, in effect, “This is the phone I’m going to use this afternoon during my run in the park.” Or tonight out at dinner, or for the coming week during my trip to New Mexico, or whatever.

Unlike the iPod, it’s essential that any mobile phone you own be able to carry your identity with it. Otherwise, there’s just no reason to own more than one phone. On the other hand, if you had a phone to match any of a given number of occasions, and you could have all of your phone numbers, call history, voice mail etc. on any of them, and you could switch between those phones at will… well, wouldn’t you be willing to own more than one? You can laugh at the extravagance of this idea, but I bet more than a few readers out there own different wristwatches for different occasions, right? This is the way mobile phones are heading: functional jewelry.

  1. What you want are multiple SIM cards, each to a phone. That is a common enough service in Europe (it’s not overwhelmingly popular, but it’s usually available) – the same number bound to multiple SIM cards.

    The rules are pretty simple – the last phone you switch on becomes the “active” one that your calls are routed to.

  2. Right, I have to admit I generally forget all about SIM cards because, as an American consumer, and as a former customer of Sprint and Verizon (and a victim of their ‘lock ’em up’ strategy of customer maintenance), I’ve never had practical experience with SIM cards.

    Still, I don’t think that’s the answer. If it were, SIM cards would have by now already spurred the widespread consumer behavior of a single customer purchasing multiple phones for multiple purposes.

    Based on how difficult Apple makes it to take out the iPhone’s SIM card (it’s not physically easy to swap out), I also don’t see them pursuing a SIM-based approach. Rather, they’ll take the attitude of ‘why use hardware to do it when you can do it in software?’

    It’ll make the process much easier, and easier to market. It’ll probably happen through iTunes, too, Apple’s kitchen sink hub for device management.

  3. Probably would need a centralized synching service that would work over the network to constantly have all the phones up to date. Apple could really step in with its .mac service.

  4. Dennis,

    I don’t believe that such a service would be necessary.

    The iPhone already syncs with a computer, and it is safe to assume all future iPhone models will do the same. The solution can be as simple as a rule that the last iPhone to sync with the computer is the active phone. Or, if more than one is physically connected and syncing at a time, the first that is disconnected. Complicated situations could be handled by a dialog box or simple toggle. That guarantees that whichever phone one is using, it is the most up-to-date.

    This is an intriguing proposition, Khoi.

  5. Well, you can do it in software in a number of ways – but that software has to run on the operator’s network (and, incidentally, the software on that network is what makes multiple SIMs to a number work the way I described).

    But allow me to point out that this service was all the rage in Europe (where people are far more likely to own multiple devices/subscriptions/etc.) something like five years ago, and it never really took off.

    If it _was_ something the general public wanted/needed, it would be commonplace (and common knowledge) today.

    (plus, of course, over 80% of any operator’s subscribers, just about anywhere but Dubai, Japan or Singapore cannot afford a second handset…)

  6. As for the .Mac upgrades, I’ll be curious to see what if anything they come up with. My only serious complaint with .Mac is the paltry storage allowance; it means I can’t use it for serious offsite backups. For $100/year I would expect a lot more than that. Other than that, I don’t see anything wrong with .Mac; it’s boring but it does the job.

  7. I don’t buy the argument that we haven’t seen this behavior because the public hasn’t demanded it. That’s only partially true.

    I think the reason we haven’t seen this behavior even on carriers that offer SIM cards is because we’ve been conditioned as consumers to buy phones from the carriers that lock us into contracts. So to buy 3 iPhone variations I’d be locked into at&t for 6 years (assuming it was even possible to easily switch between them).

    For this plan to work you’d need to be able to buy a phone like you do an iPod (without a contract on teh hardware) and (at the very least) only get dinged for a contract extension by activating one SIM-like card between all your devices.

    Ideally it would be best if I could just buy a phone and use it with my account without the carriers having any say about it at all… haha… right…

  8. This isn’t hard to do with current technology, at least on GSM carriers. I have two phones, one more business-y, a Nokia N75, and one that’s really cute, an imported-from-Japan frog green Sharp, and switch between them regularly depending on the occasion. Both phones sync with iSync, iCal, etc so the only thing I need to do is switch the SIM card.

  9. I’m with Graham on this, and have been for a while. I have two T-mobile phones and sync them up via iSync and swap my SIM out when it suits me. It’s why I think that Europe is brilliant on this, not for fashion alone — have you ever fallen in the water? Dude, phone is dead and insurance won’t replace it for 3 days. I can swap the SIM and be done with it, totally no big deal.

  10. Actually, that was my fault. I sometimes go in and edit comments to reduce the obstrusiveness of URLs by embedding them in text. In this case, I was just careless about closing the tag, which resulted in the chaos. Sorry, it’s fixed now.

  11. The whole time I was reading it, I was like he’s predicting that the iphone is going to become essentially what a wrist watch is now. If affordable I could totally see taht happening as well.

  12. I own multiple phones and occasionally switch the sim card. My Sony Ericsson K790a has such a better camera in it than the iPhone that I might switch to that phone for the night if I am going out to a bar or something.

    I also have a Blackberry 8700g, but that’s been collecting dust since the iPhone purchase…but nothing is stopping me from putting my sim card in that if I need exchange email for the week or something.

  13. I’d call you crazy except that I’ve been wanting a smaller version of my Treo for a while to use while running/riding/hiking/whatever that can just do voice and SMS. Voice mainly for emergencies and SMS for alerts from work that I need to react to quickly.

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