The onset of September usually brings with a lot of excitement among tech enthusiasts due to the fact that Apple usually holds its iPhone launch event during the first half of the month and while Apple has not always been at the forefront of innovation, a lot of the market’s trends are set by Apple. Be it TouchID, removal of the headphone jack, FaceID, a display notch, etc.
However, it’s 2020 and nothing is really normal so Apple had to push its special event to October and keep fans waiting for the new iPhone devices. The wait gets even worse when you factor in consumers who want to pick up the iPhone 12 Mini or the iPhone 12 Pro Max which are going to be available only in November. That’s not the pint though. The point is, every year, Apple adds some cool new features to the new iPhone devices, and one of them this time is MagSafe.
History of MagSafe
Now, if you have owned an older-generation MacBook before Apple switched to USB-C in 2016, you are accustomed to the term, and chances are you still charge your old Mac via MagSafe. MagSafe was Apple’s smart and cool charging solution for the MacBook which basically used a pair of strong magnets – one on the charger and the other on the MacBook itself and when connected, they would complete the circuit and start charging the MacBook.
The advantage of MagSafe over conventional chargers or barrel pin connectors was that one, it was more convenient since all you had to do was take the connector near the port and it would automatically snap-on, and two, if you left your Mac charging on your desk and someone tripped over the cable, the charger would just disconnect and your MacBook would remain on the desk instead of falling down. While a lot of users loved MagSafe, Apple scrapped it in favor of USB-C in 2016 since it offered faster-charging speeds and was universal, unlike MagSafe which was proprietary.
The Return of MagSafe
Apple reintroduced MagSafe with the iPhone 12 lineup and while the terminology is the same, the use cases are different. While the iPhone 12 still charges primarily via the lighting port and also supports Qi wireless charging, there’s now a third way to charge your new iPhone 12 and that’s via a MagSafe charger which snaps on to the back of the iPhone 12, thanks to a circular array of magnets on both the phone and the charger.
While one may argue that what was the need for MagSafe when Qi wireless charging was already present on the iPhone, the answer is that while MagSafe does aid with charging, Apple is looking at the bigger picture here which is its own accessories ecosystem and eventually, a port-less iPhone we’ve all been hearing about. Before we get to that, let’s try and understand how MagSafe works and what it can be used for.
Why was MagSafe required?
Since the iPhone 8, Apple has been shipping all iPhone devices with support for Qi wireless charging. What this means is you can place your iPhone on a wireless charging pad and the iPhone would charge wirelessly without having to connect a charger. However, one of the limitations of Qi wireless charging is that it involves a lot of loss in power in the form of heat. Hence, the maximum wattage at which a Qi wireless charger could charge an iPhone was 7.5W.
One of the reasons for the loss in power and slower charging is if the coils in the phone don’t line up properly with the coils in the wireless charging pad, inductive charging gets affected and the efficiency is reduced. MagSafe tries to eliminate this by snapping the charger onto the back of the iPhones in a way that the coils align perfectly with each other resulting in a much lesser loss. As a result, Apple could achieve charging speeds of up to 15W with MagSafe.
How does MagSafe work?
As we already mentioned, the iPhone has a wireless charging coil at the center of the back panel. What Apple did with the iPhone 12 is that they placed an array of magnets around the circumference of the wireless charging coil and the same array of magnets in the same orientation on the MagSafe charger but with opposite polarity. As a result, when the MagSafe charger is brought close to the back of the iPhone, the magnets of opposite polarity attract each other and the charger snaps right onto the back of the iPhone. If you’ve used an Apple Watch charger before, it’s very similar to how that works.
However, Apple did not stop at just that. Just the ability to charge your phone using an additional accessory would not really justify the inclusion of MagSafe, so Apple took it one step further by introducing accessories that were compatible with MagSafe. It is a well-known fact that cases further reduce the ability of a phone to charge wirelessly and by introducing first-party cases with the same array of magnets, Apple is addressing this problem too since MagSafe can even work through multiple stacks of magnets.
Speaking of multiple stacks, you can even get yourself a leather wallet as a MagSafe attachment which can be snapped onto the case which further snaps onto the back of your phone. MagSafe accessories can even trigger smart functions on your phone since Apple has also included a magnetometer and an NFC coil on the phone which can send signals to the phone to perform a certain activity.
What is the use of MagSafe?
For example, a smart leather case which uses MagSafe to attach to the phone and has a small display on the front. When attached through MagSafe, the magnetometer and NFC coil can detect that a case has been attached and can send a signal to display the time on the display of the case. Not just first-party use cases, but since the magnets are already present inside the iPhone, third-party manufacturers can also make use of this by including MagSafe on their accessories.
Belkin, for example, already showed off its multi-device charging dock with support for MagSafe and can charge your iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods all at the same time. In the near future, we might even see more accessories like car mounts that support MagSafe, or even battery cases that just snap onto the phone through MagSafe and eliminate the need for a power bank. Possibilities are plenty, it’s just a matter of time before more brands start to tap the potential of MagSafe.
Is MagSafe the future?
When Apple got rid of the headphone jack in 2016 and then introduced wireless charging the next year, it looked like Apple is moving towards a completely port-less iPhone and MagSafe adds to those conspiracy theories. Apple’s stubbornness to stick to lighting and not move to USB-C despite the new iPad line-up making the switch is another cue. If rumors are to be believed, Apple did not switch to USB-C on the iPhone 12 line-up since it is already considering a port-less iPhone as early as next year, so it would not make sense to change the port for just a year.
All this is still speculation though, so take it with a grain of salt. MagSafe is a cool inclusion in the iPhone 12 for sure and we are excited to see the various implementations in the near future and we’ll also look forward to seeing if it replaces conventional wired charging.