Rhodri Marsden: Why do we have to cut our SIM cards to fit?
Wednesday 21 July 2010
With some justification, I think, we see it as an unchallengeable human right to expect gizmo A to work in glorious synchronicity with gadget B. "How hard can it be," we mutter through clenched teeth, holding a mini-USB cable while staring with barely-contained contempt at a micro-USB port, deeply aware that said port may as well be half a kiwi fruit for all the use it is at that particular moment.
There should be no reason why noises, pretty pictures or a combination of the two shouldn't slip seamlessly between devices, but we know from experience this is rarely the case – not least because there's no real incentive for technology companies to make it easy for us. Proprietary connectors, deliberately built-in incompatibilities, the gleeful introduction of new, irritating "standards" – they all drive the purchase of more technology. Those with suspicious minds even talk in hushed tones of the "connector conspiracy", where a global cabal of gadget manufacturers are presumably holed up in some bunker, chortling over images of FireWire cables and memory cards while gorging on oysters and venison, or something.
But the latest technological hurdle to be placed in our path has, for once, been cheaply vaulted by people unwilling to take "no, that won't work" for an answer. The Micro SIM, a half-sized version of the mobile phone SIM we're so tearfully fond of, was introduced recently for future deployment into very small mobile devices, such as GPS-enabled watches. And then Apple promptly used it in the iPad, a device about 6 times the size of a mobile phone. Yes, the iPad was unlocked, so theoretically you could put any SIM in it – but you couldn't, because "any SIM" wouldn't fit in the hole. Along came the iPhone 4 with the same compelling deal; you can use any SIM, as long it's not your current one, because it's too big. But some genius, realising that the Micro SIM was backwards-compatible (ie, it could be used in old phones if slotted into an adapter) deduced that getting an old SIM into these new devices was simply a question of cutting off some excess plastic. And incredibly, it works.
You'll find umpteen guides to how to do this online, most of them festooned with disclaimers noting the possibility of SIM-icide in the event of undue carelessness. No such fear, however, on the website of the customer-driven, O2-backed mobile network Giffgaff, whose members have been advocating SIM cutting with ruthless abandon for weeks, now; one customer created a template to ensure error-free cutting, while Giffgaff's official tutorial video is up at bit.ly/sim-trim. Taking a sharp blade to a component isn't for the faint-hearted, of course, but if you're trying to avoid being tied to a new and lengthy phone contract and would rather stick with your existing one, it's probably worth it. Apple would, no doubt, emphasise that their space-saving, forward-looking inclusion of the Micro SIM was a bold, innovative move rather than a way of screwing money out of the public, but it's nevertheless refreshing to see a slightly renegade mobile network "sticking it to the man" thanks to a pair of scissors.
The weekend brought news of a survey showing that 59 per cent of Londoners were supportive of a scheme by Boris Johnson to bring mobile phone networks and wireless internet to the underground portions of London's tube network by the time the Olympic Games rolls around. In this respect, London lags behind many other cities with underground railways; Budapest, for example, has had it for around 10 years, giving you the fleeting pleasure of seeing the station name pop up on your mobile screen as you pass through. But Transport for London don't seem that keen; "technically possible but expensive" seems to be their angle, and a proposed trial on the Waterloo and City Line never even took place.
Then, of course, there's a substantial 37 per cent for whom the underground offers blessed respite from the tinny ringtones and mindless chatter we associate with mobile communication; for them, the move would be as welcome as the regular release of tigers into the tunnels. The level of enthusiasm rises markedly to 87 per cent if "emergency calls" were the only ones permitted on the network – although one hopes that means calls to the emergency services, rather than our own personal idea of what constitutes an emergency, eg, "I've left my sunglasses in Selfridges and I'll be 20 minutes late for dinner."
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