The latest iPhone upgrade from Apple includes a redesign of the accessories thanks to MagSafe – the magnetic technology that allows you, for example, to attach wireless chargers to protective cases on the back of your iPhone. While it’s expensive and not fully baked, it’s the coolest new iPhone feature in years.
MagSafe was introduced with the 2006 MacBook Pro as a power cord that was magnetically attached to the computer with a satisfactory push button. Apple modified the technology for this year’s iPhone 12 and released a range of magnetic accessories in October, including new cases, wireless chargers and a wallet. Apple has also licensed MagSafe technology to developers like Belkin in hopes of building an ecosystem for third-party magnetic accessories.
As with many first-generation Apple devices, the result is a mixed bag. Some of the early products using MagSafe are clunky and expensive. But it’s so useful that it’s not hard to imagine how Apple and developers could use the platform.
How MagSafe works
MagSafe for iPhone is a bundle of component technologies that includes a magnetometer, an updated wireless charging system, and a single-coil NFC loop.
The magnetometer is an elegant solution to an irritating iPhone problem. Apple introduced wireless charging in 2016 with the iPhone 8. The feature works great when your phone is directly aligned with the coils in most wireless chargers. But if it is misaligned or bumped, the phone will charge very slowly and sometimes not at all.
The magnetometer built into Apple’s cases for the iPhone 12 solves this problem by detecting the phone and aligning it with the charging coil. This ensures even and fast charging.
There’s a catch. Fast charging only works if you use a USB-C power adapter with 20 watts or more. At $ 20 each, replacing old Apple chargers with USB-C can be costly. Apple no longer fitted the iPhone 12 with a power plug, and previous iPhone adapters only supported slower charging speeds of 5 watts. This means that you will need to update your adapter to take full advantage of the new system.
MagSafe’s single-coil NFC reader is quite limited, but it might turn out to be the product’s best feature. NFC stands for Near field communication and enables devices to exchange a limited amount of data. In phones, it enables everything from cashless payments to mobile boarding passes.
The iPhone 12 MagSafe NFC loop can tell the difference between various connected devices like a smart wallet and a wireless charger, but that’s about it. In the future, MagSafe NFC could exchange data with other products such as Apple’s AirPods headphones and the Apple Watch.
What it can do now
At the moment there is no MagSafe feature that you absolutely have to have. But that could change quickly.
MagSafe is embedded in Apple’s silicone and leather iPhone cases, as well as in a new wallet and slip protection. The wallet clicks into place on the phone and the cases click onto MagSafe chargers. Everyone works fine, but it’s all kind of boring.
However, since Apple licensed the technology to third party developers, MagSafe has the potential to become a fun ecosystem of useful, magnetic smart gadgets. For example, Belkin makes a magnetic dashboard mount. Future iterations of the technology could allow iPhone to snap and charge wireless headphones, or swap music playlists with other smartphones.
Of course, the feature could also be noticed by consumers. The price and hassle of upgrading chargers and ports might discourage many people at first. Apple discontinued some products like the AirPower charger while others went down, like the first HomePod smart speaker.