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When Apple debuted its new MagSafe accessory ecosystem for the iPhone 12 last fall, it came with a handful of the kinds of accessories that you’d mostly expect, but now it looks like Apple is working on a fairly significant addition to its lineup of first-party MagSafe accessories.
While there’s been some speculation for months that Apple has been working on a portable battery pack that would charge via the new MagSafe system, a new report from Bloomberg has confirmed this and brought the project into tighter focus, revealing that it’s actually been under development for some time already.
As Mark Gurman reports, Apple had actually planned to announce the battery pack alongside the iPhone 12 last October, as it did with the rest of its MagSafe accessories, although like the MagSafe Duo, the battery pack likely still wouldn’t have arrived alongside the iPhone 12 launch.
Nonetheless, despite the product having been in development for over a year now, Apple ran into some problems that forced it to hold back on even revealing its existence, likely to avoid another embarrassing AirPower debacle should it be forced to can the project entirely.
Although Apple has offered Smart Battery Cases for previous iPhone models, it has yet to release a version for the iPhone 12 lineup, which already led many to believe that it was working on a MagSafe-based solution instead. According to Gurman, however, this would not be a full battery case, but rather a pack that would dock with the rear of the iPhone using the MagSafe ring, in much the same way as the MagSafe wallet.
The goal here would be to provide a portable battery that could be attached and detached independently of a MagSafe-compatible case, giving users more flexibility since they wouldn’t be forced to choose between a better case and an external battery pack.
According to the Bloomberg report, the problems Apple has been facing with the new battery pack relate to the software side of things, rather than the physical hardware.
The magnetic attachment system is reportedly working just fine, however Apple’s engineers have been struggling to solve software issues such as erroneous reports of overheating and problems using the pack on the same iPhone both with and without a case at different times.
According to sources that Gurman spoke with, if Apple can’t overcome some of these challenges to make the accessory work the way it wants it to, then the battery pack project could be scrapped entirely, or in the very least held off for a future iPhone model.
‘True’ MagSafe Charging
Apple’s MagSafe battery pack wouldn’t be the first such accessory to take advantage of the iPhone 12 MagSafe attachment system — several third parties like Anker have already announced MagSafe power packs as well — but it would be the first to offer true, full-speed MagSafe charging.
Many “MagSafe” accessories use the magnets simply for attachment — they don’t offer the full 15W charging and other advantages supported by Apple’s MagSafe technology.
In other words, they’re basically standard 7.5W Qi chargers with a ring of magnets that line up with the iPhone 12.
Naturally, Apple’s MagSafe battery pack would, of course, use the MagSafe charging standard, offering full-speed 15W charging, meaning that you’d only need to leave it on your iPhone for half as long to get a full charge out of it.
Further, Apple would almost certainly use the intelligent signalling features of MagSafe to provide a battery capacity indicator and charging status, much as it’s done with its Smart Battery Cases for previous iPhone models.
Of course, these are also the complexities that Apple is reportedly trying to solve with its battery pack, and while they shouldn’t be nearly as daunting as the challenges that AirPower faced, they’ve clearly been tripping up even the brilliant minds at Apple.
A Note on Reverse Charging
In his report, Gurman also adds another interesting tidbit noting that two-way wireless charging, or “reverse charging,” isn’t likely coming anytime soon.
That said, however, it looks like the 2019 rumours of the iPhone 11 lineup gaining the feature may have been based in reality after all, as Gurman notes that Apple did indeed plan to allow AirPods to be charged on the back of an iPhone. Although it cancelled that feature, it does offer some insight as to why components for it were found in the iPhone 11 — they were likely just leftovers from Apple’s original plan that were already in the finalized hardware spec.