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What is Apple MagSafe? The iPhone and MacBook technology explained

Apple MagSafe has featured in a range of Apple devices over the years, including in iPhones and MacBooks. But what is Apple MagSafe, and why is it a big deal?

We’ve assembled this comprehensive guide about the Apple technology, and how it differs on iPhones and MacBooks. So keep on reading if you want to be clued up on everything about MagSafe.

What is MagSafe?

Apple MagSafe first made an appearance on the MacBook Pro back in 2006 as a magnet-based power charger, providing a secure connection to your laptop’s power port while still being easy to unplug, preventing your MacBook from taking a tumble if someone tripped on the power lead.

Apple eventually decided to phase out the MagSafe technology, with the 2017 MacBook Air instead opting for USB-C charging since it packs more versatility with display output and data transfer on top of power delivery. However, the beloved technology made its return to the MacBook Pro 2021 series.

In 2020, Apple also revealed the iPhone 12 will support MagSafe charging, but in a slightly different form. Instead of using a magnetic cable, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series feature magnets in a rear casing that allows it to snap onto Apple’s wireless charging puck.

The charger itself is simple. Round, white and with a silver ring and back. It’s small enough to slip in a bag and sits flush to a table. The magnets inside clip satisfyingly onto the iPhone 12 when you attach and while it will come off if you wave it about, the connection is sturdy. It looks a little bit like a larger Apple Watch 6 charger.

The magnet system embedded in the phone has lent itself to other useful accessories besides charging, including camera tripods, car docks, and wallets.

How does MagSafe for iPhone work?

Apple has given a detailed outline of the new components within its iPhone models that enable MagSafe. There’s a copper-graphite shield, a magnet array, a polycarbonate housing, a charging coil, an e-shield and an NFC component too. In the centre of all that is an alignment magnet that will ensure the charger sits in the optimal place for maximum charging efficiency.

An iPhone's inbuilt magnetic charger's structure splitted into layers

How fast is MagSafe for iPhone?

MagSafe has a maximum speed of 15W. That’s not exactly a world-beating figure when you compare it to the 65W fast charging of the OnePlus 9 Pro, but it still beats Apple’s previous best of 7.5w for Qi wireless charging.

A completely depleted iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro took an hour to juice up 50% using the MagSafe charger, while the same test on a 7.5W Qi pad from Mophie took well over an hour. So yes, this is far faster wireless charging than iPhones are used to.

However, if you’re in a situation where speed is key, you’re still best off with a cable and a fast plug. With a USB-C 20W plug and cable the iPhone 12 went from 0-to-50% in less than half an hour.

Does MagSafe come with the iPhone?

MagSafe accessories are compatible with all devices in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series, but the accessories are not included in the box.

You’ll need to purchase the MagSafe Charger, which costs an additional £39/$39, while the MagSafe Duo charger is also listed on Apple’s website for £129/$129.

Do you need a MagSafe case?

A MagSafe case is not required to charge an iPhone via the MagSafe charger, but a MagSafe-compatible case will ensure a more secure magnetic connection. MagSafe-compatible silicone cases cost £49/$49 on the Apple store.

A white iPhone standing against it's wireless charger on a white background

Can you use MagSafe charger with any case?

No, not every case will support MagSafe charging.

Some third-party iPhone cases without the MagSafe ring will seemingly work, but it largely depends on how thin the case is. If your iPhone case is particularly thick, or features a kickstand at the rear, odds are that it won’t support MagSafe charging.

We recommend keeping an eye out for the MagSafe branding when purchasing an iPhone case. Otherwise, it’s best to play it safe by purchasing official Apple MagSafe accessories.

Can you use MagSafe on iPhone 11?

We don’t recommend using a MagSafe charger for the iPhone 11 or any other Apple smartphone preceding the iPhone 12.

While the MagSafe charger will technically work with an iPhone 11, many people have reported super-slow charging speeds. 9to5 Mac claims the iPhone 11 charging speeds were as slow as 0.96W when using a MagSafe charger, compared to the 15W speed with an iPhone 12.

Does it charge AirPods and Apple Watch?

If you’re hoping the MagSafe Charger will be the magical add-on that charges your entire arsenal of Apple tech than you might be a little disappointed.

As this is a Qi pad, if you have AirPods Pro and AirPods with the wireless case then they’ll both charge up fine here – just don’t expect the magnetic benefits. Speeds are roughly the same as you’d get with a different wireless charger, and still slower than a cable.

However, the Apple Watch uses a proprietary form of wireless charging and won’t work with MagSafe Charger. Apple would either need to switch to Qi on the next Apple Watch or make the next MagSafe Charger also compatible with the charging method used by the Apple Watch.

A slight workaround seems to be the Duo Charger, an Apple accessory that has a spot for your phone and another dedicated Apple Watch charger.

iPhone 12

What about Android phones?

The MagSafe Charger can also charge any Qi-supported Android phone and many I tried, like the Pixel 5, work with the magnets too.

Charging here is a vey slow process though, and the same goes for older iPhones – if they support Qi (that’s everything from the iPhone 8 onwards) they’ll work, just at very slow speeds. This is fine if you’re charging overnight, but useless for a quick top-up.

Is the MagSafe Charger worth buying for iPhone?

The idea of a MagSafe ecosystem is interesting and I have been impressed with the wireless charger so far. It’s faster, well designed and the addition of magnets means you can still use your phone while it’s charging – a constant problem I usually have with wireless charging.

I would like the cable to be a bit longer though, and the fact you’ll still another charger for your Apple Watch is a little bit irritating, if far from a dealbreaker. I’m also curious about whether the magnets really are strong enough for use in things like car mounts, a product Belkin has already announced.

As a £39 add on, the MagSafe Charger is a neat charging solution that might one day be the only method to charge your iPhone.

Is MagSafe available on the MacBook?

The MacBook Pro 2021 does feature MagSafe charging, but this differs to the technology found on the iPhone. In this version, MagSafe is built into the charging cable to ensure a magnetic connection, just like old models of the MacBook in previous years.

We really liked its inclusion with Apple’s premium laptop — not only does it offer a safety feature (since if you trip over the cable, it simply detaches rather than remaining taut), but it also charges fairly speedily too; in our experience, we went from zero to 50% charge in around 35 minutes, which is in line with Apple’s claims.

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