MagSafe is a magnetic accessory system introduced for the iPhone 12. A series of magnets in the rear of the iPhone allow accessories like wallets and chargers to align perfectly with the device. The term was previously used to refer to the MacBook magnetic charger that easily disconnected from the port.
● Magnetic accessory system
● Charger, Wallet, Duo, and Cases
● Third-party accessories
● Previously, magnetic charging for retired MacBooks
Page last updated: 6 days ago
MagSafe is Apple's wireless charging system for the iPhone 12 family of smartphones. That system includes built-in magnets on the iPhone and cases and charging accessories from Apple and official partners. Previously, it was also a marketing term for MacBook chargers from 2006 until its gradual phaseout from 2015-2017.
The MagSafe system for iPhone 12 features a ring of magnets that fastens accessories to the back of the device. The effect is similar to how the Apple Watch magnetically attaches to its charger. Apple announced MagSafe for iPhone 12 at the "Hi, Speed" event on October 13, 2020.
The MagSafe ecosystem may be what Apple opted to make instead of the canceled AirPower. While it's a different approach, it has a similar goal of removing user friction from charging. However, recent rumors suggested Apple engineers are still working on a revised AirPower design, now carrying the A11 chip for power management.
Magnets snap together to press the iPhone 12 to an awaiting accessory. As the device connects to the accessory, an NFC chip notifies the iPhone of what kind of accessory just connected. This enables haptic feedback and specific animations to play when connecting accessories.
Apple shows the color of the case or wallet once connected via a small card that pops up on the screen. In iOS 14.5 a small haptic plays when the Apple MagSafe Wallet is disconnected to alert the user.
The MagSafe Charger, a small, puck-like charging pad, snaps onto the back of the iPhone. The MagSafe Duo is a larger accessory that simultaneously charges an iPhone and Apple Watch.
The MagSafe Charger will charge the iPhone at 15W when connected to a 20W adapter. The 20W adapter must be purchased separately and meet the USB PD requirements to charge at full power.
The standard magnetic charger costs $39 and is compatible with all iPhone 12 models. The MagSafe Duo costs $129 and can only charge the iPhone at a max 14W when using a 30W adapter.
Apple may introduce a MagSafe-ready Battery Case. Code discovered in iOS 14.5 mentions a battery pack that can charge the iPhone to 90% before shutting off to ensure charging efficiency.
If there is a MagSafe Battery Case, then preventing waste of energy and reducing heat production by stopping a charge at 90% makes sense. Wireless charging is still an inefficient form of charging that can increase battery wear if too much heat is produced.
Cases, Wallet, and Sleeve
Apple is also building its magnetic charging tech into official iPhone 12 cases. The cases will magnetically snap onto the phone, and charging accessories will then snap onto the case.
The magnets used for MagSafe are strong enough to hold the weight of the iPhone aloft, even the iPhone 12 Pro Max. These magnets are not too strong, however, which allow for easy attachment and removal of accessories.
The Apple MagSafe Wallet was initially panned by critics for how well it attaches to the device. We tested the wallet and found that it not only stays attached during normal use but is one of our favorite wallets ever made for iPhone.
Apple also introduced a new type of case that takes advantage of the MagSafe system. Rather than magnetically attaching to the iPhone, it encases the device as a sleeve and locks the iPhone in place securely. Because the iPhone doesn't move around inside the case it is also able to display the time in a small window, tinted according to the color of the case being used.
Apple's magnetic charging tech will also work with official third-party accessories. Belkin and other accessory makers have already begun flooding the market with various interpretations of the technology.
Belkin was early out of the gates with its 3-in-1 Wireless Charger. The sleek stand can simultaneously charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods. The stand is built to hold the iPhone aloft in portrait and landscape, and users need not fear the device slipping off. Vibrations and notifications will not cause the iPhone to detach from the mount.
The MagSafe Car Vent Mount Pro is a dash mount for the iPhone 12. It attaches via vent clip and can be rotated and tilted to hold an iPhone 12 in portrait or landscape orientation. The vent mount is a very simple solution without the ability to provide power to the iPhone, just a magnetic mount.
MagSafe and the 20W power adapter
Users were left somewhat confused about Apple's specification requirements for achieving a full 15W wireless charge when using the MagSafe Charger. Apple says you'll need a minimum of 20W from a USB PD compliant power adapter.
This is due to the introduction of a new 2.22 amp power profile in the USB PD 3.0 spec. That power profile along with new power negotiation features led Apple to restrict the MagSafe Charger to 20W adapters.
When users connect the older 18W power adapter, users expected there to be enough overhead to provide a full 15W charge, but this is not the case. The 18W power adapter uses a 2 amp power profile that is unable to achieve the power necessary for a full 15W wireless charge.
Apple likely chose USB PD 3.0 because of its power negotiation features and its ability to adjust output based on temperature. The small puck used on the MagSafe Charger is quite an engineering achievement, as we've seen other manufacturers struggle to mimic the design.
MagSafe MacBook Charger
Before reviving the brand for its wireless chargers, Apple used the MagSafe branding for its series of MacBook chargers.
In 2006, Apple launched the initial one in the first Intel-based MacBook Pro. It included a "T" shaped male plug that magnetically snapped into the female port on the laptop's side.
The charger had connector pins with a symmetrical design that allowed you to insert the plug in either orientation. The charging plug had LEDs on both sides that display as green for fully charged, and amber or red to indicate that it's charging.
Apple switched to an "L" shaped MagSafe plug with the MacBook Air in 2008. Apple transitioned the MacBook Pro to the "L" shape in 2010.
The MagSafe 2 reverted to a thinner version of the initial "T" shape design in 2012's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display. MagSafe 2 was the final version for MacBooks, as Apple shifted to USB-C starting in 2015 with the 12-inch MacBook. The 2016 MacBook Pro also used USB-C.
Apple's last MagSafe product was the 2017 MacBook Air, a minor spec upgrade based on the 2011 MacBook Air design. When Apple rebooted the MacBook Air brand in 2019, it too carried USB-C.
In addition to MacBooks, Apple also used its magnetic chargers on the Thunderbolt Display and LED Cinema Display.
Numerous third-party companies have mimicked the MagSafe charging design with small adapters for USB-C MacBooks. They provide a tiny dongle that inserts into the MacBook's USB-C port. That dongle provides a magnetic female port that a male charging cable can snap into, providing a similar effect to Apple's retired magnetic chargers.
There are different versions of third-party adapters. Some avoided legal trouble by repurposing Apple ports onto the new adapters, allowing customers to use Apple-made cables with newer MacBooks.
Other third-party adapters use designs that aren't explicitly the same as Apple's but create a similar effect. These can include third-party charging cables that plug into a magnetic female dongle or two-part adapters with one piece plugging into Apple's USB-C cable and another into the MacBook's corresponding port.
The Future of MagSafe
Apple has re-introduced MagSafe for accessories and charging cables on iPhone. There are some rumors that suggest the magnetic system could return in some form to future MacBooks as well.
There is some chance that Magsafe will be a total replacement for the Lightning port in the next iPhone. By allowing data and power transfer in future versions of the system, Apple could easily move customers to a port-less future.