Apple revived one of its most popular technologies, MagSafe, at its annual iPhone unveiling on Tuesday, introducing a new line of smartphones with magnets on the back that provide quick and robust connectivity to wireless chargers, clip-on cases, and other accessories.
While the old MagSafe was a safety feature for charging laptops without worrying about damaging your computer if the cable was ripped out, the new MagSafe is a clever, smartphone-centric accessory game for Apple. This allows the company to build a new gadget ecosystem for the iPhone that it controls completely, just like Lightning and Apple̵
While MagSafe now seems like a nice addition to the newly announced iPhones, it is paving the way for Apple to make magnetic wireless charging the centerpiece of the future charging of all of our devices. Check out the company’s new MagSafe Duo charger, a wireless charging stand for the Apple Watch and iPhone, or the even more rugged (and also fancy-looking) Belkin MagSafe 3-in-1 charger that lets you run an Apple Watch, AirPods, and charge an iPhone at once. Both seem to bring us closer to a world where the iPhone doesn’t need to support Lightning charging or wired charging.
And Apple is supposed to be working on a portable iPhone for this very reason. Removing the connector would mean Apple could, if it wanted, avoid switching its smartphone line to the USB-C standard it is now using on MacBooks and high-end iPads. This would also allow the company to make devices even thinner, using the same logic that was used when removing the headphone jack. The waterproofing could get even more effective with fewer holes in your phone, especially if Apple can convince us (and carriers) to use an embedded SIM card instead of putting a SIM slot in each phone. With MagSafe, Apple could offer an alternative way to fully charge your phone through wireless charging and any cables and adapters it may need to meet your charging needs on the go.
There is certainly a financial incentive for Apple to keep control of its charging ecosystem. Apple’s “Wearables, Home and Accessories” division, which includes all cables and chargers as well as important products such as the Apple Watch and AirPods, was the low-wage earner in the company’s last fiscal quarter. But basically it’s tightly tied to the entire iPad business, making nearly $ 6.5 billion a quarter. With that said, it’s still vital to Apple’s bottom line as iPhone sales growth continues to slow and Apple relies more on its ecosystem and services.
However, Apple is known to at least try to provide an advantage to consumers if they forego universal standards or make widespread choices against consumer products. In this case, a full investment in MagSafe seems to bring some very real quality of life improvements to iPhone ownership, even if it does bring some serious habit changes for iPhone owners.
For one thing, wireless charging is just easier and less cumbersome than plugging in a cable, and even more so when magnets are involved, so you don’t have to adjust the position of the device to make sure the charger activates. MagSafe also shows situations like using your phone in bed without worrying about bending or breaking a cable or damaging the phone connector.
In addition, the variety and usefulness of the accessories that you can now achieve thanks to built-in magnets on the back of the iPhone is exciting. Apple’s clip-on wallet and red leather case are just a few of the myriad of potential accessories we can think of. Think magnetic snap-on zoom lenses or bundles of cases that can be attached magnetically and don’t need to be forcibly torn from your phone if you want to swap one out for another. PopSocket, the leading manufacturer of detachable handles for iPhones, is sure to be working quickly on MagSafe-enabled versions of their products.
For Apple, MagSafe also offers the option to do a little product revisionism after the AirPower fiasco last year, which saw Apple canceling the previously announced product after discovering that the wireless all-in-one charging couldn’t be reliably created mat thought it could. While AirPower is apparently gone for good, MagSafe is now back to help Apple fully embrace wireless charging, and MagSafe brings with it the consumer goodwill it has amassed during its time on the MacBook line (though the earlier iteration of MagSafe really nothing like this current one).
But MagSafe isn’t really going to shine if Apple doesn’t put it in the spotlight, and doing so by making a portable iPhone seems a lot more likely after yesterday’s announcement. The big questions, however, are whether consumers find it as hostile as removing the headphone jack, and whether Apple can convince enough of us that it will really make our lives better, outweighing the inconvenience of ditching all of the cables, chargers, and other accessories that do we collect every time the iPhone changes.