Why Apple’s MagSafe Charging Is a Confusing Mess Right Now

MagSafe Wireless Charger and iPhone 12 Pro Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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There’s little doubt that the new MagSafe technology in Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup is exciting on a whole lot of different levels, as it opens up a whole new accessory ecosystem, and it’s clearly only the beginning.

Like many new technologies, however, it’s not going to be without its growing pains. We’ve already seen some minor problems with Apple’s own case accessories, and Apple’s MagSafe charger isn’t as fast as you might expect for its rated 15W power output.

To be fair, however, wireless inductive charging is already known to be less efficient than wired charging, so it’s unrealistic to expect a 15W wireless charger to deliver the same power as an equivalent wired charger, and this means that Apple’s 20W USB-C adapter will charge your iPhone 12 twice as fast.

This problem isn’t specific to the iPhone either, and in fact using a MagSafe charger will provide more efficient charging than most competing smartphones simply by guaranteeing proper coil alignment. It’s actually a very clever design in that regard, but of course even Apple can’t break the laws of physics.

Not All MagSafe Charging Is Equal

Unfortunately, however, it seems that Apple’s 15W MagSafe charging isn’t so much a new “standard” as merely the best possible scenario for the new iPhone charging ecosystem, and Apple already has a number of exceptions to this rule.

Firstly, while Apple’s standard MagSafe charger can provide up to 15W of power, that comes with an asterisk or two, as you’ll need Apple’s 20W power adapter to get those speeds, and you won’t get them with the iPhone 12 mini, which maxes out at 12W no matter which adapter you’re using.

Now it appears that only Apple’s standard MagSafe Charger will be able to deliver that 15W at all, as Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman observes that the page for the as-yet-unreleased MagSafe Duo shows that the new $129 dual iPhone and Apple Watch charger will only give you 11W with the standard 20W USB adapter, although if you spring for a 27-watt brick you can get up to 14W — still short of the 15W that the normal MagSafe charger offers.

This actually adds to the already disappointing features of the MagSafe Duo, which has been panned by early reviewers for its poor design and high price tag, and now it seems that we can add “slower charging” to that list.

If you think this all sounds kind of confusing, you’re not wrong, but we’ll try and break it down for you:

  1. Apple’s standard MagSafe Charger, which sells for $39, can charge an iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, or iPhone 12 Pro Max at 15W, but only if you shell out an extra $19 for the 20W USB Power Adapter. With Apple’s older 18W USB power adapter, you’ll only get 12.5W charging.
  2. Apple’s new MagSafe Duo, which will sell for $129, will only provide 11W charging with Apple’s 20W USB Power Adapter. If you spring for Apple’s $49 30W adapter, you’ll get 14W charging, but that brings the total price to $178 for a charger that still won’t keep up with Apple’s standard $39 model. Alternatively, you can use a third-party USB-PD 27W+ charger for 14W charging.
  3. Regardless of the charger used, the iPhone 12 mini will only charge at 12W speeds.

While some critics of Apple will undoubtedly raise conspiracy theories about these distinctions, we think it’s extremely unlikely that any of these are artificial limitations on Apple’s part — there’s simply no reason for the company to make things this confusing. It’s far more likely that it’s just doing the best it can within the laws of physics since there’s always going to be some power loss going from wired to wireless charging, and of course the MagSafe Duo has to siphon off some power to handle the Apple Watch charging circuitry.

It’s also not entirely clear if Apple may be basing these new specs on the assumption that users will in fact be charging an Apple Watch at the same time. If this is the case, charging performance could be higher when charging an iPhone by itself.

Does It Matter?

To be fair, unless you’re a specs junkie or really care about the fastest possible charging speeds, we don’t honestly think you should be too concerned about the distinctions between Apple’s MagSafe chargers.

Early tests have already shown that the standard 15W MagSafe Charger will get an iPhone 12 up to 50 percent in about an hour, and based on these numbers, Apple’s new MagSafe Duo would push that to just over 80 minutes, all other things being equal. If you’re willing to supply a 27W+ adapter instead — and keep in mind that you don’t have to buy one from Apple — then that increase becomes less than five minutes.

However, all of the MagSafe charging possibilities pale in comparison to simply taking your 20W USB charger and plugging it directly into your iPhone with a wire, which will have you juiced up to 50 percent in 30 minutes, and up to a full charge in less than 90 minutes.

In other words, if charging speeds are that important to you, you really shouldn’t be using a MagSafe charger in the first place. For dropping your iPhone on a nightstand when travelling, however, or even simply recharging it at your desk while you work, either of the MagSafe chargers will likely serve you equally well and you probably won’t even notice the different — and they’re both a remarkable improvement over the 7.5W wireless charging speeds of Apple’s prior iPhone models.

When it comes right down to it, however, the MagSafe Duo charger sounds like it’s going to appeal to a fairly niche group of users — those who need a portable charger that can handle both their iPhone 12 and Apple Watch at the same time. If you’re on the road and like to travel light, the $129 MagSafe Duo may be well worth its high price tag, but we think that most users will be well served by looking elsewhere.

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