What is MagSafe, Apple’s magnetic refill used for?

MagSafe technology was introduced by Apple in 2006 with the first MacBook Pro. Since then, it has been declined in several formats. It is found on iPhones and Macs, but also in accessories.

What is MagSafe? If you’ve purchased an iPhone or Mac lately, you may have heard of this technology. Is this a wireless charging standard? From the name given by Apple to wireless charging? Magnetic accessories? Even though MagSafe on iPhone arrived recently (2020), this technology actually has a long history at Apple.

It is Steve Jobs who is at the origin of the MagSafe. In 2006, during the presentation of the first MacBook Pro, the Apple co-founder impressed the crowd with his charging cable designed to avoid accidents. Ten years after its disappearance, the MagSafe is still around.

On Mac: a charging cable designed to avoid accidents

First of all, it is good to remember that we write MagSafe with a G, and not MacSafe. The prefix “Mag” refers to magnets (magnets), while “Safe” can be translated as security in English.

Prior to 2006, Mac laptops (iBooks and PowerBooks) charged with a round connector. Starting with the 2006 MacBook Pro, they adopted the MagSafe. This technology has replaced the physical connector that you insert inside your computer with a magnet with pins. Just approach a MagSafe charger to the receptacle of a Mac for the recharge to start. What interest ? If someone gets caught in the cable, they don’t take the computer with them. The magnet gives way and the cable pulls out without moving the Mac.

Over the years, the MagSafe has established itself as one of the best features of Macs. She has saved many computers, especially in the educational environment.

Apple has released several versions of the MagSafe. There was the thinner MagSafe 2 in 2012, then the MagSafe 3 in 2021, with Macs equipped with an Apple Silicon chip.

The MagSafe 2. // Source: Mike Stahl – Wikimedia Commons

Between 2015 and 2021, Macs were delivered without MagSafe (Apple had decided to turn the page on MagSafe, preferring USB-C). After years of fan complaints, the brand has finally brought back the magnetic port, even though Macs still support USB-C charging.

The MagSafe charger is provided in the box.  // Source: Numerama
Since 2021, Macs (here the MacBook Air M2) are again charged by MagSafe. // Source: Numerama

On iPhone, the MagSafe as standard for accessories

In 2020, Apple brought MagSafe technology to the iPhone (all iPhones since the 12 have it). However, its purpose is not the same. The MagSafe iPhone version has two uses:

  • Improve the performance of wireless charging, by precisely targeting the place on the smartphone that supports induction charging.
  • Allow you to hang accessories, which are not necessarily related to charging. There are, for example, supports to hold your iPhone, webcam adapters, purses or MagSafe shells.
The iPhone 12 MagSafe // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama
The official iPhone MagSafe charger is shaped like a circle. It can be placed in any direction on the back of the iPhone, to charge it while using it. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

On iPhone, the MagSafe is not a standard. The Apple smartphone supports the same Qi wireless charging as all other Android devices. The MagSafe is only a form offered by Apple to recharge in Qi, but is not at all mandatory (you can also recharge your AirPods with a MagSafe charger or a standard Qi charger).

Will there ever be an iPhone without a physical charging port? It’s possible, but the MagSafe isn’t ready to replace Lightning or USB-C just yet. The MagSafe on iPhone is not yet popular enough, as evidenced by the very few accessories compatible with the technology.

The MagSafe soon on Android?

Is there a MagSafe equivalent from other brands? There are plenty. Microsoft notably imitated the magnetic charger of Macs with its Surface, while Realme launched the MagDart, a clone of the iPhone charger. However, in the future, Apple’s MagSafe may become the norm.

A Qi2 charger takes the same form as a MagSafe charger.  They share the same characteristics.  // Source: Numerama
A Qi2 charger takes the same form as a MagSafe charger. They share the same characteristics. // Source: Numerama

At CES 2023, the Wireless Power Consortium, to whom we owe the wireless charging standard, announced that it had reached an agreement with Apple to make the iPhone’s MagSafe the future of wireless charging. The Qi2, successor to the Qi, can take the form of a magnetic circle with the same power as the MagSafe. In other words, Apple’s proprietary technology is about to become the norm.

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