iPhone 12 MagSafe is the sleeper feature that could outshine 5G
Appleswhat allows you is possibly the new feature in the iPhone 12 family that gives you the most immediate impact. And that’s knowing that the company – and the entire wireless industry – has spent a lot of time putting 5G in the spotlight.
It is almost sacrilege for me to write this. After all, I’ve been grappling with the potentially groundbreaking nature of 5G since 2015 when I first wrote about Verizon’s intention to test superfast cellular technology in the field. The truth, however, is that initial deployments aren’t big speed increases and your first few experiences with 5G may be a shrug.
MagSafe, on the other hand, has some tangible benefits no matter where you live or whether you’re near the right cell tower. A MagSafe connection charges faster than previous iPhones, matching the fast charging Android phones have enjoyed for a long time. And as silly as that sounds, there is something cool about watching your phone click into place. This is visual confirmation that you haven’t messed up the placement of your device.
“There is no longer any guess where the sweet spot is,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.
MagSafe has its own long-term potential that is exciting. The magnetic pens on the back of the phone are reminiscent of other attempts to foster an attachment ecosystem, from Motorola’s Moto-Mods to the Essential Phone PH-1’s modular camera. Neither company has moved enough phones – the Essential, in particular, was a flop – to really interest many accessory makers in taking risks on bold ideas. Most of the time we got additional batteries.
Apple’s scale changes everything.
Pave the way
Apple’s massive reach – Strategy Analytics estimates 180 million units will be sold in the next year – means a potentially huge market for anyone looking to make MagSafe accessories. The opportunity is especially rich for those looking for accessories beyond the basic wireless charging stand. Think game controllers, camera grips, selfie sticks, and wireless batteries that can change the way we hold or interact with an iPhone.
“We can’t wait to see how innovatively others will use MagSafe to create a robust and ever-expanding ecosystem,” said Deniz Teoman, vice president of hardware systems engineering at Apple, in the Apple presentation on Tuesday.
This is not an exaggeration. Apple has a way to popularize and legitimize technology trends, from mobile payments to wireless charging. Where Motorola and Essential fell short, Apple was able to popularize the concept of magnetic attachments.
According to Patently Apple, Apple has registered a patent for a folio case with additional power supply and the ability to charge AirPods. While these patents don’t always spawn products in the real world, they are an indication of where the company might go in the future.
Phone accessory maker Belkin has already introduced two MagSafe accessories, a charging stand for one iPhone 12, Apple Watch and Apple Airpods as well as a more conventional car holder. Steve Malony, Belkin senior vice president, said early products are more “bread and butter” on the roadmap compared to future accessories.
“Some of the ideas we see on our desk are pretty wild,” he teased. “It will be fun to put these ideas into action.”
MagSafe feels like a spiritual successor to Google’s Project Ara, a modular phone that uses magnets to attach smaller components to the handset so you can assemble it like you’re building something out of Legos.
Modular was hyped as a potential breakthrough innovation in smartphones. LG tried their G5 phone, which allowed you to swap out the bottom of the device for various attachments like handles and hi-fi speakers. The trend subsided as quickly as it rose. Google put the project on hold and then quietly scrapped it. The G5 was such a flop that LG launched a far more conventional phone the next year.
“The bigger problem is that fully modular designs are more appealing to engineers than consumers,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. “Smartphones are very sophisticated products and people are buying the best phone they can afford that fits their needs now, not a platform to tinker with later.”
Moto Mods were a streamlined version of the modular concept, offering a complete phone with different backs that you can swap in and out. Thanks to this concept, Motorola’s Moto Z3 was the first 5G phone on Verizon’s network, thanks to a 5G mod placed on the back of the device. But even then, a phone without a mod felt like half a device, and the gimmick was the core of the phone.
Apple has refined it further and offers a complete handset for the iPhone 12, but with the option to attach accessories magnetically.
“MagSafe is brilliant in its simplicity,” said Greengart.
Malony described the advent of MagSafe as a “transformation time” for the aftermarket and expects a wave of diverse accessories to come out of the industry.
“Things like that change the game,” he said.