While some Apple fans and tech critics have had reservations with the new MagSafe wireless charging feature announced with this year’s iPhones, I have tried to keep an open mind right off the bat. While I know it doesn’t charge as fast as a USB-C to Lightning Cable paired with a Fast Charger, it does offer faster wireless charging than previous iPhones, which is a step forward from what was available on previous iPhones.
MagSafe also offers additional flexibility thanks to the magnets built into the back of each new iPhone 12 and 12 Pro model. I own Apple’s new MagSafe charging puck and have found that it holds a very stable connection when directly connected to the back of the Phone or a MagSafe-compatible case. It also works well enough with many cases that don’t have Apple’s new magnets built-in. For example, the MagSafe puck charges just fine through the UAG Mouve case for the iPhone 12 Pro Max that I reviewed last week. The magnetic connection isn’t as strong, but it works just fine for charging at my bedside and for light use in the hand.
That second bit is one of MagSafe’s more interesting features. Most wireless phone chargers are far too cumbersome to use while holding and doing anything with a phone. However, MagSafe’s magnets make Apple’s new chargers far more practical for this task. I have tested this quite a bit and I haven’t had any issues so far. The one negative is that the back of the phone will heat up a bit if your iPhone’s battery has 50% or more to recharge while you use it. At least this is the case if you don’t have a MagSafe case with its own embedded magnets.
I can’t help but think that MagSafe for the iPhone is Apple’s first step toward a long rumored port-less iPhone. I’m not necessarily in favor of that, as I still prefer to have the option of using a Lightning cable for fast charging and even occasional local backups. However, if Apple is entertaining this possibility, then they had to deliver a practical wireless charging method to go with it. Based on this first generation hardware, I think Apple is on track to deliver the goods there.
For now, the most interesting thing to me about MagSafe is what’s to come from third parties. I’m glad that Apple decided to open this new charging method up to the MFi program, rather than keeping it all to themselves. While Apple’s first two MagSafe chargers are pretty vanilla, we have already seen examples of far more interesting combo chargers and car docks from other accessory makers. And that’s just the beginning of what should come once other manufacturers get their heads around MagSafe’s specs and requirements.
I also expect that we will see the floodgates open in the near future to release a deluge of new MagSafe cases from all of the major manufacturers iPhone owners know and love. Right now, Apple has the only cases available with MagSafe magnets built in, but I think we will start seeing a lot of new models hitting the market before spring of next year. If that first wave proves successful, then this could become a very popular new iPhone accessory.
I’m really looking forward to this, because MagSafe’s strong magnet connection will allow all kinds of cases to be made a bit thinner while holding your phone just as securely. With the magnet doing the heavy lifting, case makers won’t have to worry as much about the extra plastic, leather, or other materials that typically have to be dedicated to that task. Highly protective iPhone cases won’t benefit that much, but as we see with Apple’s new models, other more basic cases will definitely be able to take advantage. And all of these cases will maintain a strong connection with a MagSafe charger thanks to those same built-in magnets.
To me, MagSafe looks more like a new Apple accessory ecosystem than just a wireless charging standard. Leave it to Apple to parlay one into the other, right? It is still early days and there is no guarantee that it will become all that it could be. Just look at how many, or more appropriately, how few iPad Smart Connector accessories exist today. Sometimes they don’t blow up the way some of us expect.
That said, I think MagSafe is a little more practical than the Smart Connector because it is geared toward lower cost and more essential accessories. You can’t get more basic and essential for a phone than chargers and cases. MagSafe also has a much larger addressable market than the Smart Connector ever did thanks to the popularity of the iPhone. It may just be a convenient way to charge an iPhone 12 or 12 Pro today, but I believe MagSafe will become a lot more than that in the next year or two.