What is Apple MagSafe for MacBook, iPhone and accessories?

Apple has been using the so-called “MagSafe” for charging connections on some of the devices it offers since 2006. The third generation of corresponding charging cable connections has been used on MacBook models since 2021. However, since 2020 there have also been MagSafe charging options for the iPhone, which are based on the Qi charging standard, which has been used for wireless charging of the iPhone battery since the iPhone X from 2017. On the iPhone, AirPod charging cases and the like, MagSafe serves less as a trip protection than as a comfort design.

What does MagSafe actually mean?

MagSafe is a term made up of the English words "Magnet" and "Safe". The first is certainly self-explanatory, the second means "safe". The magnetic connection of a charging cable to the MacBook Pro from 2006 should make the device and the users safer. Because if someone stumbled over the charging cable, it didn't necessarily drag the laptop away and throw it off the table onto the floor. The charging cable was simply separated from the device by the force and no major damage was caused. 

Protection against tripping: MagSafe on MacBook (Pro / Air)

So on the Apple laptop, MagSafe has always been a trip protection or a way to prevent too many damage, repair and warranty cases in busy work environments without cable management and with cables running across the floor. This can also be an advantage in schools, universities, at home and elsewhere. During my training, I saw many a Windows laptop with a plugged-in power cord flying off the table... 

MagSafe 2 on the Apple MacBook Pro from 2012. The connector is longer and narrower than in the first MagSafe generation and is therefore not backwards compatible. Photo: Sir Apfelot
MagSafe 2 on the Apple MacBook Pro from 2012. The connector is longer and narrower than in the first MagSafe generation and is therefore not backwards compatible. Photo: Sir Apfelot

Apple's MagSafe technology was first introduced in January 2006 at the Macworld Expo. It coincided with the presentation of new models of the MacBook Pro. This was equipped with MagSafe 2012 from 2. The MacBook Air got the safe magnet connector from 2008 to 2017, also with a generation change in 2012. The MacBook got MagSafe from 2006 to 2011. With a revision of the MacBook series in 2016, the power supply connector gave way to a USB-C connector which not only connected peripherals, but also charged the battery.

MagSafe 3 on the Apple MacBook Pro from 2021. This connector is also not backward compatible. On the 16-inch model of the laptop, up to 140 watts can be used with the appropriate power supply. Photo: Sir Apfelot
MagSafe 3 on the Apple MacBook Pro from 2021. This connector is also not backward compatible. On the 16-inch model of the laptop, up to 140 watts can be used with the appropriate power supply. Photo: Sir Apfelot

Only with the MacBook Pro models from 2021, which with M1 Pro or M1 Max chip could be ordered, MagSafe came back as a charging port. Apple laptops were offered without this technology for five years. The MagSafe 3 generation introduced with these devices was also included on the MacBook Air in 2022 M2 chip deployed. A big difference to "before" is: the power supply is not permanently installed at the other end of the MagSafe cable, but a USB-C connection for use with Apple's own and third-party chargers.

The biggest difference compared to the previous generations: the cable and power supply unit can be replaced independently of each other. Photo: Sir Apfelot
The biggest difference compared to the previous generations: the cable and power supply unit can be replaced independently of each other. Photo: Sir Apfelot

Quick overview: MagSafe on MacBook

  • Current generation: MagSafe 3
  • Maximum charging power: 140 watts am 16 inch MacBook Pro from 2021
  • Compatibility: Not backward compatible with MagSafe 2 or MagSafe 1

MagSafe on iPhone, AirPod cases, battery packs and more

Instead of a plug that sticks magnetically to the smartphone's Lightning connector, charging surfaces are used on the iPhone and other Apple devices or on the corresponding accessories. These are usually round and thus correspond to the shape of the charging coils inside the devices to be charged. The charging surfaces are attached to the back of the iPhone, where they adhere magnetically and charge the battery via wireless energy transfer.

Wireless charging via Qi technology has been supported by iPhones for five years, but the new MagSafe standard was only implemented with the iPhone 12 in 2020 and marketed using suitable magnet accessories. Due to the exact placement of the chargers, the Qi technology can be used in a more targeted manner, which leads to higher charging performance. Instead of a maximum of 7,5 W, up to 15 W are currently possible.

However, MagSafe on the iPhone is not limited to just connecting chargers or attaching magnetic battery packs. Also various accessories – e.g the Apple MagSafe wallet for credit cards and bills - Can be attached to the iPhone. In addition, the iPhone itself can be attached to magnetic surfaces, such as mobile phone holders in the car, charging stations on the desk and so on. Various manufacturers such as Anker, Belkin or Pitaka offer corresponding accessories. Also mounts for the "Continuity Camera" function iOS and macOS will use magnets for quick installation.

In addition to the iPhone, cases for AirPods and AirPods Pro headphones can now also be charged via MagSafe. In addition, the Apple Watch has always had a charging surface that is similar in form and function to this technology, although it was not initially marketed as such. MagSafe for devices outside the MacBook spectrum is not primarily for security, but rather for convenience. That, the type of energy transfer and the charging performance are the biggest differences between the two technologies of the same name.

Recommended reading: Charging with Apple MagSafe is harmful to the iPhone battery

Quick overview: MagSafe on the iPhone

  • Focus is on convenience, not security or charging speed
  • Maximum charging power: 12 watts in the iPhone 12 series and 13 mini, 15 watts in larger iPhone 13 models and in the iPhone 14 series (with 20+ watt PD 3.0 charger)
  • Compatibility: Usable on iPhone, AirPods case and other products equipped with it

Sources: 1, 2

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.

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