With MagSafe, Apple is betting on a Wireless Future over USB Type-C

The reason is money...

What will definitely be one of the most-streamed events of 2020 has just come to an end. And Apple, the only tech company that can pull such numbers for a product launch, has announced 4 new iPhones:

  • iPhone 12 Mini
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 Pro and
  • iPhone 12 Pro MAX

The company is jumping from the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 12 instead of the iPhone 11s as would be expected with their usual naming scheme. They call this their biggest leap because they’re bringing in new things among them being:

  1. 5G support across all the devices
  2. The new A14 Bionic chip built on a 5nm process – the most powerful smartphone chip ever
  3. All new OLED displays across all the new iPhones
  4. The first smartphone capable of shooting Dolby Vision HDR straight from the camera in 4K/60fps with the PRO series.
  5. No chargers in the box.
  6. And of course, MagSafe – basically magnetic attachments to the back of the iPhone.

MagSafe is a name many Apple lovers know. Up to 2016, before Apple shifted to USB Type-C on their laptops, they shipped MagSafe chargers that would auto-disconnect whenever they were pulled. This was made as a safety feature to prevent people from accidentally pulling their laptops from their desks in case they tripped on the chargers.

With the iPhone 12, Apple is bringing back just the name. The whole functionality has changed. Now, it is a magnetic strip at the back of the new iPhone, around the wireless charging coil, that allows people to connect different accessories, including wireless chargers, phone cases, wallets, and much more over time as Apple says in the official press release, “Customers can also expect innovative MagSafe accessories from third-party manufacturers.”

It appears to be such a simple and cool approach to wireless charging that I bet many companies out there are currently wondering why they never thought of it. Before YouTube Engineers go in-depth on the way the whole setup works without affecting wireless charging, here’s the official image Apple released on the arrangement.

The main components that enable the new MagSafe here are the Magnet Array, and the Alignment Magnet. The Magnet Array appears to have a wider radius compared to the charging coil.

MagSafe accessories will, as it seems from these images, be connecting to the Magnet Array, and then be authenticated some-what by the Alignment Magnet at the bottom. We are not sure if there is anything else serious that could enable communication between the phone and the accessories. So most of the accessories we can expect should be either phone cases, chargers, or other fancy stuff. But probably nothing that involves “software communication” with the phone.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Is Apple choosing MagSafe over USB Type-C? Well, that’s something I believe that is impossible to completely answer right now.

The reason this is even a question is because last year, with the launch of the iPhone 11 series, people expected that to be the last time we’d see the lightning port on the iPhone. Being that Apple had already brought Type-C to its laptops and iPads, it was only fair that in 2020, they’d bring it to the iPhone. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. And from today’s launch, it seems it will never happen.

Apple makes a significant amount of money from selling and licensing lightning accessories for its iPhones. In Q1 of 2020, the Wearables, Home and Accessories segment of the company made more money than the Mac segment. And while the argument that these accessories won’t be selling as much over time holds true, Apple knows that should they shift to Type-C, they stand to not only reduce these revenues prematurely – since people are still buying iPhones like crazy – but to also never have that ground they currently hold being the only company with its own charging standard, making decisions as they please.

Early this year, Apple argued that losing the lightning port would create more waste by making Lightning-compatible accessories obsolete. While this argument could be seen by some as very legitimate, it also doesn’t make much sense when you think of it since Apple is today introducing even more accessories with MagSafe.

So while they’re doing away with the chargers and earphones in the box starting with the iPhone 12 – without offering any reduction in the price of the device, and while still offering to sell you these same chargers and earphones at huge markups – they’re opening up to even more accessories through MagSafe another avenue for them to make even more money. Meaning that should they finally lose the lightning port by either giving into the USB Type-C pressure or opting to go fully wireless, they will already have built a new revenue stream through MagSafe accessories.

For me, it is a genius approach to making money. A MagSafe compatible case is $49. And all one is paying for is the click when it connects. A MagSafe charger is $39 without the charging brick. A MagSafe wallet is $59 just for a leather pouch you can store the Apple Card you don’t have. People will buy lots of these. And by the time Apple makes up their mind on whether to go completely wireless while adding more tech features to MagSafe, or adopt USB type-C for a while, they will have made lots of money. And MagSafe will have become a significant revenue stream for the company.

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