It’s official: The SIM card is shrinking!

ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, approved on Friday specifications for a SIM card even smaller than the micro SIM that Apple’s iPhone 4(s aapl) first introduced in 2010. The new standard, called a nano-SIM, is the fourth form factor for the small smart cards used in GSM phones and is 40 percent smaller than the prior model. The approval was not without strife, however, as various phone makers were debating for months over the design and size.
The SIM, known as a Subscriber Identity Module, is used by carriers to activate cellular phones and enable services. Consumers can also use the SIM cards to store a limited amount of information, such as contact data. That allows people to switch from one GSM phone to another by swapping the SIM card without losing service or contact data. With the new specification and smaller size, hardware manufacturers can gain a small amount of additional room for handsets and tablets with integrated mobile broadband service, which could lead to larger batteries or additional components.
Of particular note is that the approved SIM design appears most similar to Apple’s original submission. Why is that important? Apple was the first handset maker to start reducing network operator control from its smartphone and tablet products. The company has also hinted at completely owning the cellular customer relationship; through either a SIM card or an embeddable SIM. Our thoughts from earlier this year:

“But there’s more in it for Apple. If it’s able to control the SIM card in phones, it holds more sway over the subscriber. My colleague Stacey Higginbotham has covered this extensively, and was first with evidence that Apple is aiming to cut out the carriers eventually with even tinier embeddable SIM cards made by Gemalto. If they succeed in embedding these cards, iPhone or iPad buyers could buy the device direct from Apple and simultaneously choose the carrier they want to use, and Apple could activate service right at the point of purchase. It also means easier roaming on other networks.”

Granted, with the new standard, all hardware makers have access to the new SIM design. But Apple may be the one to gain the most in the end thanks to its patent for choosing and switching cellular providers directly on a smartphone.