We just spoke with SIM card maker (and pioneer) Giesecke & Devrient here at CTIA about progress on the creation of the 4FF standard — the so-called nano-SIM — over which Apple and Nokia have been warring in recent months. The company is showcasing Apple's design here at the show, an evolution of the 3FF micro-SIM that iPhone and iPad users have become well acquainted with over the years, though there aren't any prototypes of Nokia's competing design at the booth. When asked if that meant they were siding with Apple on this one, we were told "we work with everybody."
The company tells us that the ETSI vote on the 4FF standard that had been delayed back in March is actually now underway. Voting began for ETSI members in mid-April and wraps up in mid-May, mere days away. G&D is a voting member, though it wouldn't tell us which way it's leaning — needless to say, the presence of Apple's design here signals that they'll almost certainly put their votes in that direction and away from Nokia's more radical design that limits backward compatibility with micro-SIM and mini-SIM slots on older phones.
The final vote tally is mere days away
The delay in the vote had been due largely to Nokia's vocal displeasure in Apple's design, saying in March that Apple explicitly violated ETSI's design guidelines for 4FF — guidelines that specified that a nano-SIM should be shaped in such a way that it would be difficult or impossible for a customer to accidentally jam it into a micro-SIM slot. G&D noted to us that Apple's design has now been modified: a small amount of plastic has been added around the edges of the electrical contacts, making the new nano-SIM just long enough so that it can't be forced lengthwise into an incompatible socket. (The tradeoff, of course, is that the revised design is even less different than the micro-SIM it's designed to replace, saving relatively little room inside the phone for other components.)
That's big news — and without the jamming argument under its belt, Nokia's design may be in trouble.
G&D pointed out that the micro-SIM took around five years between ratification and introduction in a product — the iPhone — but that we won't be waiting that long this time around. "Adoption is being driven by a supplier" this time, we were told, an obvious reference to Apple. "We'll see a product very soon after ratification." That doesn't likely mean we'll see a nano-SIM in this year's iPhone since that design has undoubtedly been finalized for quite some time, but next year's? Assuming the ETSI votes in its favor this month, a nano-SIM iPhone in 2013 is a very safe bet indeed.