Apple to SIM-lock Japanese iPads

The iPad will be tied to a single network operator when it appears in Japan on May 28.

Apple appears to have reversed course in Japan on a key feature of its iPad 3G: It won't offer a version capable of being used with different cellular carriers there.

All Japanese models will be SIM-locked to Softbank Mobile, Apple's iPhone partner in Japan, Apple said late Monday. The company confirmed the presence of a SIM lock but couldn't immediately explain why it was enforcing the restriction in Japan.

The decision flies in the face of a pledge made by Apple CEO Steve Jobs in January when the iPad was first announced.

"All the iPad 3G models are unlocked," he said of the international models.

The news from Japan prompted a flood of criticism on micro-blogging site Twitter. Users that had sent tweets of excitement as they placed orders later used the service to vent their frustration at Apple and Softbank.

The SIM-lock issue could strain relations between the carrier and Apple users.

Some local iPhone users have previously been critical of Softbank Mobile for its data network, which users says is sometimes slow, and because the carrier does not support the tethering of an iPhone to a PC.

SIM locking is common in Japan, where all cell phones are locked to the carrier from which they are purchased. Unlocking is not offered by network operators and third-party unlocking services are difficult to find.

Pressure is building to halt the practice of locking. The government has suggested it may ban it. Carriers have reacted with opposition to the proposal, arguing that locking enables them to subsidize the cost of cell phones.

However, with the iPad the price appears to be equivalent to that being charged outside Japan, where iPads will not subsidized by operators, so the locking appears to be a simple restriction to stop iPad users switching to the country's other WCDMA network operator, NTT DoCoMo.

Softbank and Apple began accepting orders for the iPad on Monday ahead of its launch on May 28. Japan is one of nine countries where the iPad will go on sale that day.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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