They say you can't beat the classics and Apple seems to agree with that. If industry rumors are to be believed, Apple is bringing back an old favorite with MagSafe on its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, which is a surprising turnaround for the notoriously stubborn company.
No, we're not talking about the clip-on charging puck that you get on the latest iPhones – the original MagSafe was a magnetic charging port that quickly peeled off when pulled to prevent your precious laptop from being dragged down and smashed on the floor becomes. The obvious return has been hailed as a step in the right direction for Apple's laptops that come exclusively with USB-C variants, yet many people seem to have forgotten what makes USB-C charging so great. MagSafe resuscitation may not be as good as everyone seems to think.
There are a few reasons to be careful. The first is that it undermines the idea of single cable dock setups. With just a USB-C cable, you can connect your MacBook to a multiport docking station that offers power and a variety of bonus ports. You can even hook up a monitor or two, all of which snake out of your MacBook with a single cable. Throw MagSafe in the mix and it's not quite the same. You turn on your Mac using the docking station while a spare charging port (MagSafe) is not in use.
A single dedicated charging port also means that you can no longer juice your MacBook on any side. One of the advantages of USB-C is that it can carry both power and data. So on a device with USB-C ports on both sides, you can charge it wherever it works best. If your charging cable doesn't fully reach the single MagSafe port, there is a problem. On a Mac with USB-C? Just plug it in on the other side.
USB-C ports are more flexible in other ways. We mentioned how they can carry both power and data, and that makes them extremely versatile. A USB-C port can do pretty much anything you need – this is one of the reasons Apple only built a single slot into the 12-inch MacBook. However, MagSafe is tied to a solitary purpose with no other options or possibilities. It feels like a waste of space, especially when Apple is expected to keep adding USB-C ports – which already have charging capabilities – to its future MagSafe-enabled MacBooks.
Speaking of wasted space, there is the problem of size: a MagSafe port is roughly twice as wide as a USB-C equivalent. Not only does this look less elegant, it also takes up more space inside and outside your MacBook. For a company as fanatic as Apple, the point is to put as much technology into their devices as possible – just watch an iPhone teardown video to see what I mean – that has to be a pain.
Reviving MagSafe properly
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
If you know Apple and are back to implementing clunkier, less flexible charging technology, it goes against the way the company does it. CEO Tim Cook's engineering army knows the value of the space in their equipment. And it makes me doubt that a facsimile of MagSafe technology that was phased out in 2016 will bring a triumphant return completely unchanged.
I could be wrong here. Reporter Mark Gurman believes the resurrected MagSafe "will be similar to the elongated pill-shaped design of the older MagSafe port," and he has an excellent track record. But let's imagine for a moment what Apple should do with MagSafe.
At least in my eyes, the perfect way forward is a compromise between the two worlds USB-C and MagSafe – something that uses the USB-C port and yet offers the magnetic security of Apple's proprietary charging technology.
Other companies have already tried this. There is, for example, the Griffin BreakSafe or the Magrig, both of which combine a USB-C dongle with a charging cable that is magnetically attached to it. Even Apple has been working on a similar idea. The problem with these designs, however, is that they leave the dongle in your MacBook when the cable comes loose. I bet most people would leave this dongle in their laptops all the time, which would permanently reduce the number of free ports they have. That is not the way, and neither is it Apple’s way.
No, Apple can do something better, something less awkward, something that works like the old MagSafe but retains all the benefits of USB-C. Check out MagSafe on the iPhone 12: Apple knows how to make a magnetic charger that turns on and off with ease and doesn't waste a valuable slot. This shows that the company understands the importance of its device ports. Now it has to apply that thinking to the Mac.
If Apple just goes back to the old way, I'll be happy to have MagSafe back on the Mac, but a little disappointed that the world's largest tech company found the easy way out. And that we could have had something so much better.