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Apple brings back MagSafe, sparks interest in magnetic phone charging

One of Apple’s most popular MacBook features, the MagSafe magnetic charging connector, saved countless laptops from hitting the floor before being replaced by smaller USB-C plugs. Now Apple is officially bringing back the MagSafe name for a different set of devices — iPhones — but with a greater focus on convenience than safety, a change that will fan the flames of interest in effortlessly simple magnetic tabletop and car chargers.

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Bringing magnetic charging to iPhones involves a number of non-obvious engineering challenges, ranging from high-speed power delivery to avoiding magnetic interference with the phone’s compass hardware, to guaranteeing proper alignment with the rear charging area. The new MagSafe chargers are shaped like large circular pucks, and promise 15-watt recharging speeds — twice the peak previously guaranteed for iPhone-certified Qi chargers. They will be compatible with cases that use hidden magnets to ensure alignment, as well as a small leather wallet attachment. Standalone MagSafe Wireless Chargers and MagSafe Duo Chargers will be available initially as stations for home and office use, the latter adding support for Apple Watch charging.

Though MagSafe faded out of Apple’s MacBook lineup in 2016, the company never abandoned the concept of magnetically attached charging connectors, using larger but simpler white plastic pucks to charge Apple Watches. Since the wearables only come off users’ wrists once per day, the idea was to make refueling effortless — drop and go — so users wouldn’t even think about the two-hour charging times required for their little batteries, or struggle with pulling their watches out of charging docks at the beginning of any day. In essence, Apple has used low-friction charging solutions as a means to offset small device battery sizes, hoping that users will complain less about recharging if it’s easy and quick.

Third parties have created iPhone-ready magnetic accessories for home, office, and car charging, but few have gained traction compared with official Apple solutions. Apple also maintained patents on the original MagSafe to scare rivals away from cloning the connector outright, but it’s unclear how much legal protection the iPhone solutions will have. Regardless, there’s obvious appeal of a uniform official solution that enables a pocket device to effortlessly mount while charging in a car, on a nightstand, and at a desk, and MagSafe could inspire a new level of interest in magnetic power solutions, both for Apple users and the mobile industry as a whole.

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