Link text

The last 48 hours have been quite a rollercoaster. Following the announcement of pricing for the iPad in Japan and other global markets, the big question has been “will it be SIM locked”.

From the first announcement by Steve Jobs introducing this “Magical” new product, the announcement that the device would be SIM free has been a big boost for Apple. Sure, no other product on the market uses the micro-SIM standard that the iPad requires, but the possibility that you’ll be able to move your iPad easily to another network in the future should you move or find a better provider was sweet music to those iPhone owners suffering under less than satisfactory carrier restriction. The pricing model made sense. Since the device is wholly unsubsidized by the carrier, the iPad should be portable to any company that can provide a network compatible for it.

But of course, no one was sure if this promise extended to the iPad in other global markets. It is slowly becoming clear that this will not be the case, at least in Japan. While no official statement has been published on either the Softbank or Apple Japan webpage, entries in the iPad order page FAQ posted this morning on the Apple website seemed to imply that the iPad sold in Japan would indeed be SIM Free.

Specifically this section

As it turns out, this is simple a translation of this section found on other international Apple webpages.

You would assume that if you can travel and get a SIM in a country you are visiting, the device would have to be SIM lock free.  Well, you would be right, but in the case, it turns out that the website is wrong. In Japan at least we are getting confirmation that all iPads sold in Japan will be SIM locked to only work on Softbank’s mobile network.

From Impress Watch

“It has been announced that the iPad wi-fi+3g version sold by Apple will be be locked to only use SIM cards from Softbank Mobile.

Apple has also confirmed that “All iPad’s sold will only be able to connect to Softbank Mobile’s network”. No reason or details have been disclosed.”

From IT Media

“According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

Over the next 10 days, many people are expected to stop by the Apple Store to pre-order.  They will be told by Apple staff “Apple iPad sold in Japan are all have SIM locked”. Softbank is Apple’s exclusive partner with for the iPad and iPhone. Basically, all iPads sold in Japan are SIM Locked.

To make matters worse, more news is emerging showing even more draconian controls. Impress Watch goes on to explain that you will not be able to get an iPad compatible micro-SIM from Softbank if you do not purchase an iPad from them. You will not be able to use the Softbank network if you bring an imported iPad sold in another market. They explain this is due to the fact that imported models are not certified wireless devices.

Weekly Ascii backs this up by confirming with both Apple stores and Softbank that

  • No SIM Free iPads will be sold in Japan
  • 3G models will not be sold without a contract
  • Even using micro-SIM from another network will not work on SIM locked iPads
  • You can not make a contract for an imported iPad

What I’d like to know is when did Softbank kidnap Steve Jobs’s dog? Apple is getting nothing from this deal. Softbank is not subsidizing the iPad, except to waive interest fees for people who want to pay for their iPad on a two year payment plan and who sign up to a two year unlimited data contract. iPad customers will not be able to get local pre-paid data SIMs when they travel, and people coming to Japan will also not be able to use their 3G iPads in Japan without paying insane roaming fees. Japanese customers are getting a hobbled product and are not getting anything in return.

To add insult to injury, Apple seems to be pretending that nothing is wrong here. As of the writing of this article, the iPad Pre-order page on Apple Japan’s website still indicates that the iPad wi-fi+3G in not SIM locked. Apple has agreed to let Softbank completely run the show for this product, and Softbank has decided to lock this puppy down.

It will be interesting how Docomo will react to this. Just a few weeks ago, Docomo announced plans to release an iPad compatible micro-SIM with the expressed purpose of capturing some of the iPad market. However Bloomberg is now reporting that those plans are now officially dead in the water. It’s one thing to treat your customers like cattle in Japan. It’s a very different thing to lock out all your competitors from similarly abusing their customers. Especially when that competitor is a psudo-government entity like Docomo.

So what can you do?  Well, if enough people complain before the 28th, maybe something can happen. Nothing seems to be official enough that either Apple or Softbank is willing to just come out and say it publicly. However realistically it;s far to late to change things for launch.  Still, early online response to this is decidedly negative and the dissatisfaction is growing. We can hope that eventually Apple will develop enough of a backbone to stand up to Softbank as they did finally getting permission to sell iPhones in their retail outlets.

Or another option is just to grab an EMobile Pocket wifi and go with an iPad wi-fi model, it’s the solution I have been using for weeks now, and to be honest it works just fine. I can use Maps with no problem, get YouTube in full resolution, download any size app and even use Skype. All with no jailbreaking required.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

Runs on WP Engine