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Why Apple's New MagSafe Technology Might Become a Sleeper Hit

The new magnetic technology might open up some wide-reaching new possibilities, with all sorts of practical applications.

iPhone MagSafe Diagram | Apple

Apple’s new iPhone 12 lineup came with all sorts of new announcements, which we explained a couple of days ago, here. One of those announcements was the reintroduction of Apple’s proprietary MagSafe technology. While this was heavily overshadowed by Apple’s quite dramatic announcement of 5G on iPhones, this technology could be a big part of the new phone generation.

This is sort of a weird thing for me to write about, especially due to the fact that just a few days ago, I was slamming on this upgrade as a marketing point for the new iPhone. I’ve also been a big proponent of 5G cellular networks, even before mainstream interest, so it’s especially weird to just ignore it.

Originally introduced back in January of 2006, MagSafe was the magnetic charging cable used for Apple’s Intel-based MacBook Pro. It was meant exclusively for being able to pull a cable out of a MacBook without damaging the connector or the computer.

While never materializing into something that was tangibly useful, MagSafe ended up dying off, to be replaced with USB-C, until this week.

The new MagSafe

iPhone MagSafe on the other hand, has immediately introduced some benefits. Quicker charging speeds, perfect placing on iPhones, and the ability to snap accessories on all have great uses. The charging speeds have provided a Samsung quick speed-esque charge, and the magnetic placing reminds me of the magnetic charger for Apple Watches.

Magnetic pins in the back of the new iPhones allow certain MagSafe accessories to attach to the phone, through the magnetic connections. This allows whatever devices with the same connectors to attach to the iPhones.

While these changes may not necessarily be the most exciting part of the new iPhones, there’s some serious possible uses for this technology. 

The magnetic pins on the back of the new phones sort of bring back some memories of other tries to create a set of interswappable ecosystems. Some examples include Motorola’s Moto Mods and Google’s Ari project. Both of these attempted to create an ecosystem of attachments, built to be modular, but both of these failed to gain any real traction.

Apple’s widespread use of this technology, built into an existing product line allows all of this to change. The massive outreach of Apple iPhones and the estimated 180 million to be sold this year mean that Apple will put MagSafe technology in the hands of hundreds of millions of people. This massive outreach gives developers reasons to create new attachments for MagSafe, with the promise of a massive market.

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Accessories could be anything from magnetic game controllers, to GPS addons, to magnetic batteries, cameras, anything could be attached.

Apple recently filed a patent, according to Patently Apple, for a folio case with an added power supply and the ability to charge AirPods as well. While many of Apple’s patents never fall into fruition, a lot of Apple patent’s lead to an evolution of some sort.

Vice president of hardware systems engineering at Apple, Deniz Teoman, says “we can’t wait to see the innovative way that others will use MagSafe, creating a robust and ever expanding ecosystem.” With this, it’s much easier to think that Apple would allow third party applications to their technology.

Third parties have already created MagSafe products, mostly through Belkin however, a popular accessory maker. A charging stand that can work with MagSafe iPhone 12s and AirPods, as well as a car mount.

While these are just updated version of their general applications of new designs, Belkin’s senior vice president said “some of the ideas that we see come across our desk are pretty wild, it’s going to be fun to take those ideas and play with them,” teasing some possible future accessories that are a little different.

Dreams of modularity

MagSafe feels like a form of what people have always wanted from their dream phones; modularity and the ability to do whatever you want with the phone. Similar attempts to create some sort of modular ecosystem have died pretty hard.

Google’s Project Ara, a phone that used magnets (sound familiar?) to create a fully modular device. You could swap in a weather module, bigger battery, better camera, secondary CPU, more storage, or whatever you really wanted.

This combined with another phone, the LG G5, tried to push modularity as a breakthrough new technology, forever changing how smartphones worked. Google Ara pushed this with a fully modular phone, and the LG G5 pushed this with the ability to swap the bottom of the phone for a few different attachments.

MagSafe tries to combine the both of these, with many useful applications. You could swap batteries, and wirelessly charge the phone with an addon. You could add an external CPU/GPU and run it to the phone with the lightning port. You could add a camera module and swivel through dozens of camera options. There’s all sorts of things that you could do.

This feature being a feature instead of the main selling point of the phone might be what attracts consumers however. A fully modular phone mostly applies to the people who make phones, allowing changes and continuous revenue after launch. To consumers, it means an extra speaker or a battery maybe.

With MagSafe however, there’s no extra charges, it isn’t mandatory, and it could be whatever sticks to the iPhone. This is where I think the feature will succeed.


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