When creating things with practicality and simplicity in mind there is a fine line that must be managed between understated elegance and oversimplified arrogance. This is something that has always fascinated me in regards to the world of modern contemporary art. A quick trip to any museum’s contemporary section will inevitably result in a moment where an average art viewer might pause. A moment where there is a sparse painting that prompts the question, “wait, this is art?” It is this line that modern artists work within, leaving the viewer to have their own interpretation of the work.
In consumer electronics, Apple is a company that walks a similar line. The company is so committed to simplicity and usability that sometimes they are accused of oversimplification. A common critique of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, for years has been that the company assumes that its users don’t need features like an app drawer or an easily accessible file management system. There is a beauty to this simple approach as well, however. The ergonomic focus of the iPhone for instance is often an element of the hardware design that is underappreciated. This understated elegance makes the hardware that much more desirable to have and hold on to. A commitment to ergonomics came to mind when the Cupertino company announced its newest wireless charging standard called MagSafe. A realization that Apple makes accessories and hardware that are useful.
A Magnetic Revolution
So what exactly is the new Apple MagSafe charger? Simply put, it is a wireless charger designed for the iPhone 12 that uses magnetic connections in the phone and the charger for a more secure hold to the device for a better charging experience. The way that Apple is trying to revolutionize wireless charging through magnets is in two ways. The first is establishing a more secure connection. Apple has argued that while wireless charging is great in terms of convenience, a constant pain point in the experience has always been improper alignment causing charging to stop randomly. The second benefit of this new technology according to Apple is leveraging the magnetic connection to be able to use the phone while it is charging, a notorious limitation of wireless charging.
The way that Apple has solved these two pain points of wireless charging through the use of the aforementioned magnets on this new charger and on the iPhone 12. Because the magnets snap into place immediately, the human error of wireless charger placement is negated. The magnetic attraction creates a smoother process of connecting a charger that ultimately just makes a lot of sense. And because of the strength of these magnets, the phone can be lifted while the charger is still attached to be used without interrupting the charging cycle. With one addition, Apple has solved the two things that most people cannot stand about wireless charging.
The practicality of this solution is to be applauded. Especially in the context of what the rest of the industry has focused on in regards to wireless charging. In recent years, the main focus of any new wireless charger that has been released from Samsung or Anker has focused only on charging speed and wattage delivered to phones. Yet these limitations still existed, albeit for a little less time than before. This is the definition of iteration. What Apple has done with MagSafe feels more like innovation, since it has the capability of fundamentally changing the way that we look at how a wireless charger can be used. And the solution is so elegant and thoughtful that it seems natural, to the point that we can wonder why no one else had thought of this already. Using MagSafe should be a natural adjustment for everyone and feel second nature immediately. So natural, in fact, that Apple is leveraging this technology into a new class of accessory ecosystem.
Building the Use Case
Apple views MagSafe as its new accessory ecosystem, not just a charging standard. The company has also introduced its first MagSafe complementary accessory in the iPhone Leather Wallet, a snap-on mini card holder wallet that can be easily removed for easy access. Apple sees this new connection standard to have limitless potential once accessory partners make their own MagSafe accessories.
We are starting to see the fruits of this almost immediately as companies like Belkin and PopSockets are working on and releasing MagSafe compatible accessories for the iPhone 12. The support will of course be there as there is too much money to be made from accessories on the iPhone to not support it.
But the real interesting thing here is the utility that this accessory ecosystem will provide. Belkin’s new MagSafe equipped car mount is a perfect example. Magnetic car mounts have always been available in the market. The way they would work is having to attach a large magnet to the back of a phone or case to mount in. The results would vary as not all magnets are of the same strength. MagSafe helps to make this a more fluid solution with stronger magnets and the lack of needing to apply a sticker. With the addition of MagSafe compatible cases, there also is no worry of a case blocking the magnetic connection, which was an issue with some of the weaker magnets.
MagSafe PopSockets also allow for easier interchangeability between different styles of the popular accessory. Using the magnets instead of the adhesive and twist off system currently in place is a much more elegant solution and also appeals to people like myself that would love a kickstand once in a while but would also like to avoid the commitment of always having a PopSocket on the back of a phone.
These are improvements over accessories that are already in the market, making real-world applications that we use already more efficient and more sensible. In some respects, MagSafe feels tailor-made for something like a PopSocket or mini-wallet. The MagSafe ecosystem will grow exponentially because accessory makers see the value of making accessories for iPhones especially here in the US where Apple enjoys a 45% market share. This move to MagSafe reminds me of further refined evolution of the Moto Mods concept that Motorola introduced with the Moto Z. There is potential for this to be the next great frontier for Apple, by creating an environment of must-have accessories for the iPhone.
Additionally, this new accessory classification creates a further advantage for Apple when looking to keep its customers locked into the iPhone bubble. If someone were to upgrade their iPhone to a new iPhone 12 and get into the world of these MagSafe accessories, there is a good chance that they will look to stay in the iPhone realm as no Android manufacturer would be able to compete with that accessory offering. Ultimately, MagSafe is a step forward in accessory utility but also a step forward into the next chapter of Apple lock-in. Apple has something here that is both useful and innovative and I for one cannot wait to see how this new subcategory of accessories will grow.