The Return of MagSafe

There is a rumor that MagSafe is returning to the Mac. Even Mark Gurman buys into this rumor. I hope it’s not true.

In the early 2000’s Apple released improvements to their products that seemed minor, but often had dramatic improvements in day to day use. It was this attention to detail that set Apple apart and helped to create a new generation of Apple fanboys. MagSafe was one of those features. Almost everyone has, at some point, snagged a laptop charging cable and put their device at peril. Apple’s idea of using a magnet in the charging connector to avoid accidentally tossing your device off of its perch was brilliant and it won over tons of fans. It’s hard to remember just how crazy this idea was, but back then you weren’t supposed to put a magnet anywhere near your devices. Magnets were the enemy, often responsible for data loss and hardware failure. It’s easy to forget this and take for granted how astounding this seemed at the time because, since MagSafe, we’ve had lots of devices with magnet integrations, like the iPad Smart Covers, the Apple Watch and now iPhone cases.

When MagSafe got a makeover in 2012 there was a lot of grumbling because many of us had invested in and amassed a few MagSafe chargers. The hard reality was that our devices got smaller and our ports needed to adapt. Our ports also needed to keep up with innovations in power consumption and transfer. This was no different than when the iPhone switched from the 30 pin adapter to lightning, a change needed because the iPhone needed faster charging and more transfer throughput. MagSafe 1 to MagSafe 2 was painful, but we all eventually got over it.

Eventually Apple ditched MagSafe altogether and embraced USB-C. This was not without hurt feelings across the Apple-verse. Personally I love the idea of USB-C. It’s one adapter to rule them all. My precious. Despite the promised ubiquity of USB-C, it was never better than MagSafe from a usability standpoint. Apple needed to add USB-C to its devices, but not for charging. Nonetheless Apple went all in, getting rid of every port on the Mac except for USB-C, included our beloved MagSafe.

Now that we’ve had four years to switch everything over to USB-C switching to MagSafe would be a terrible move. USB-C chargers have never been particularly affordable, and good USB-C cables aren’t exactly cheap either. Because Macs shipped with only USB-C ports, many of us amassed a collection of dongles and hubs, some of which had pass thru power. These were pricey purchases. All of this gear becomes potentially obsolete the minute Apple ditches charging via USB-C. I suppose Apple could reintroduce a standalone charging port alongside of USB-C, though honestly I think this would be extremely confusing for the vast majority of consumers.

The iPad recently switched to USB-C. I thought the iPhone 12 might join it this year. I should say, I hoped the iPhone 12 would join it. Apple did, however, ditch charger blocks with the iPhone 12, opting to include a lightning to USB-C cable. If ever there was a time to ditch lightning on the iPhone it was when they dropped the charger block. In addition Apple reintroduced the MagSafe branding on a rather expensive magnetic charger for the back of the iPhone. It’s probably great to use if you don’t mind your phone charging more slowly, but it’s hard to justify at the excessive price point that ecosystem commands.

The best thing Apple could do is to keep USB-C on the Mac and work harder at making affordable chargers, cables and better multi port hubs. Apple’s HDMI and Single USB-A hub is one of the most reliable hubs out there, but it has just a single USB-A port. Apple needs to finish transforming its line of mobile devices to USB-C, including the port on the bottom of the iPhone. Rather than ditch USB-C for charging, Apple should push the standard forward to enable faster power and higher wattage than it does today. Bringing back MagSafe on the Mac would be a risky gamble that is sure to upset many folks who just got comfortable with USB-C. It also stands to be extremely confusing if that branding extends to MacBook chargers and iPhone cases. If Apple really wants to bring the original cleverness of MagSafe back to the Mac then do it through a clever USB-C adapter, but please, Apple, don’t change power charging ports on us again.

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