MagSafe Is One Of The Best Ideas Apple Ever Had

And now it’s back!

  • MagSafe is a breakaway magnetic power connecter for MacBooks
  • Apple abandoned MagSafe in 2016, but now it’s back on the new MacBook Pros.
  • MagSafe can deliver more power than Thunderbolt ports. 
Apple MagSafe charger on MacBook Pro

Apple

MagSafe is back on the new M1 MacBook Pro, but why did it ever go away?

One of the new MacBook Pro’s best features is the breakaway, magnet-powered MagSafe charging port. It’s convenient, it’s safe (of course), and it lets you know if your Mac is charged with a glance from across the room, thanks to its built-in LED indicator. Over the years, countless Macs have been saved by the breakaway connector snapping free, instead of dragging the poor Mac to its doom. 

But if it’s so good, why did Apple ditch it in the first place?

“Apple pushed the Lightning port hard, and then USB-C for the simplification of ports and cost reduction,” speculated web designer and teacher Caleb Sylvest in an email. “By only having USB-C ports on recent MacBooks, the computers were cheaper to manufacture and less complicated on the inside.” 

Too Much Minimalism

Three MagSafe charging designs

Apple

Throughout the late 2010s, Apple was on a minimalism kick. Now, clean design is great, but minimalism has no place on a general purpose tool like a Mac. Let’s take Steve Jobs trucks vs cars analogy, which explained why the iPad could be pared back to its very essentials because the Mac was still around to do the heavy lifting.

The problem was, Apple started to remove the tow-bar, the pickup bed, the gnarly tires, and so on from the Mac. We went from the full complement of ports on the 2015 MacBook Pro—MagSafe, Thunderbolt, SD card reader, HDMI, and two full-sized USB-A ports—to a handful of USB-C or Thunderbolt ports on the 2016 model. 

Now, the 2021 model has brought everything back (except those old USB-A ports), and the Mac is again a proper truck, but just a sporty SUV whose owner keeps a can of spray-on-mud in the glove compartment so they can look like they’ve been off-road. 

"The 16-inch model, however, needs to use the MagSafe port to reach full speed."

Return of the Mag

We can think of several reasons that Apple removed MagSafe. One is that it was obsessed with minimalism, as mentioned above. A MagSafe charger does nothing but charge. A USB-C or Thunderbolt port, however, can charge, connect to peripherals, and even drive monitors or docks with a bunch more stuff connected. 

Another reason might be that MagSafe was problematic. There were three plug designs throughout MagSafe’s previous life. Two were t-shaped, and suffered from fraying cables. The other connector was L-shaped, and was absurdly easy to knock out of the slot.

Apple is now much more experienced with magnets—they’re in almost everything it makes—so surely the new MagSafe 3 design will be better.

But there might be another reason that Apple returned to MagSafe. It had to. 

MagSafe on Macbook Pro

ipopba / getty. Images

“Basically the biggest power brick can’t deliver max output unless it uses MagSafe, I believe this is a limitation of the current USB-PD spec,” veteran Apple journalist Jason Snell said on Twitter

The new 14-inch MacBook Pro can be charged at full speed via its USB-C/Thunderbolt ports. The 16-inch model, however, needs to use the MagSafe port to reach full speed. 

That’s because Thunderbolt charging tops out at 100 Watts (although regular USB-C can reach up to 240 Watts on some devices), whereas the 16-inch MacBook Pro uses a 140W power adapter. 

But whatever Apple’s reasons for resurrecting MagSafe, we’re happy about it. To finish, here’s a story from Sylvest that we can all relate to:

“During my first year of college, a fellow architecture student set his Apple MacBook up on his desk to play music for the class. Of course, the power cable was connected and strung across several desks hanging about 3 feet in the air. 

“Like a total goof, I attempted to step-hop over the cable and got tangled. In the 2.5 seconds of time my legs tangled in the cable and jerked the computer my mind raced and calculated the dollars of damage I was about to inflict upon this guy's computer. With a light 'tick' the MagSafe cable popped off the computer with no further incident or damage beyond my fear and embarrassment.”

And that’s why we love it.

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