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Apple introduces iPhones with dual SIM trays only in China

Dual SIM function available in iPhones elsewhere using eSIM

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

We know Apple has long given China special treatment. Now it’s giving China a special version of the iPhone that the rest of the world won’t get.

Dual SIM support -- which lets a phone use two phone numbers and carrier plans at the same time -- will be coming to the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. While rumors suggested it would be limited to countries where multiple SIM use is more common, it appears the function will in fact be available worldwide -- as long as your carrier supports it. (Apple listed Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T among several other telecom companies.)

But here’s the thing: While everyone else gets dual SIM capability via a single physical nano SIM combined with a digital eSIM, China gets something unique. Instead of an eSIM, the iPhone XR and XS Max in China will have a special SIM tray that holds two physical nano SIM cards. (There does not appear to be an iPhone XS that can hold two nano SIM cards.)

Apple released this photo on Weibo of CEO Tim Cook (right) and chief designer Jony Ive looking at the iPhone XR. (Picture: Tim Cook via Weibo)
Part of the reason could be that eSIM isn’t prevalent enough yet in China. Apple’s website for the Apple Watch 3, which uses eSIM, shows that China Telecom only supports cellular service for the device in 7 major cities including Shanghai (but notably not Beijing.) Another major carrier, China Mobile, only introduced eSIM services in June -- starting in 7 cities that also don’t include Beijing.
All this means if Apple was to launch an eSIM iPhone in China, many users wouldn’t actually be able to use that capability yet -- rendering the dual SIM feature useless. Yet most Android smartphones sold in China already ship with dual SIM. With the competition in mind, it’s understandable why Apple has made the extraordinary move to make a different set of iPhones just for Chinese customers.

As for those of you living outside China, Apple says the dual SIM function won’t work immediately. It’ll be enabled through an eSIM software update later this fall.

While it’s rare for Apple to create models specifically tailored to one country, it’s not unheard of. Different iPhones support different wireless bands depending on what carriers in each country use. And the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus in Japan supported Suica, the NFC cards used on trains in the country.

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For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.