Apple MagSafe power connector: isn't dead yet.


The introduction of the Apple MacBook in 2014 heralded the arrival of the USB-C port on Apple devices. It also sounded the death knell of the much-loved MagSafe and MagSafe-2 power connector. Or did it?

Fast forward to 2016, and we see the arrival of the new MacBook Pro laptops, with four included USB-C Thunderbolt-3 equipped ports, and a headphone jack. That's it. No MagSafe, no HDMI, no traditional USB-A, no SD card slot, and no Thunderbolt-2 ports (which used the now-superseded DisplayPort connector).

What happened, Apple?

What happened to the inclusion of the much-loved MagSafe / MagSafe-2 magnetic power connector, that saved many expensive Apple laptops being dragged off the table when tripping over the power cord?

It seems the MagSafe-2 connector is dead. Or is it?

If you look carefully at the new line of MacBook Pro laptops, you'll see there are two USB-C ports on the left of the keyboard, aligned with another two USB-C ports on the right of the keyboard. Also on the right of the keyboard, there is a headphone jack between the USB-Cs and the bottom of the screen.

This creates a pleasing symmetry when you have cables plugged in to ports.

Cleverly, it also leaves a gap on the left side of the machine, between the left USB-C ports and the bottom of the screen, where the MagSafe-2 connector used to live.

A recently-released patent filed by Apple shows a method of connecting a cable via a magnet to the exterior of a device, and it's ability to transfer power and data to the connected devices.

So it's magnetic, and it can transfer power. Sounds a lot like MagSafe.

It doesn't need a "port", it can connect to the exterior of a device and align using multiple magnets for secure attachment and precise alignment.

This means there's no need for a "hole" in the side of the machine.

Apple has used a similar technology for its Smart Keyboard accessory for the iPad Pro.

The Smart Connector for the iPad Pro uses three rings embedded into the side of the iPad, that enable the connection of accessories such as the Smart Keyboard. The accessory is then able to magnetically attach to the iPad, and power and data can be transferred through the magnetic connection, without the need for a "hole" in the side of the iPad. Simply align the accessory to the side of the iPad, and magnets move it in to place, switching on the power and data connection. Using this system, the accessory (such as the keyboard) doesn't need its own power supply, and doesn't need to create a bluetooth data connection with the iPad, as it can draw power and data from the Smart Connector.

However, for the MacBook Pro laptop, the do-it-all USB-C port is capable of accepting power, and charging the laptop's battery. It's also capable of sending power the other way, using the MacBook's battery as a power source, and sending power to a connected accessory, such as an iPhone (with appropriate cable/adapter) or an external hard drive over USB-C and Thunderbolt-3.

Let's consider:

  • the already-implemented three-ring iPad Smart Connector,

  • the utility of the MacBook's legendary MagSafe connector,

  • the space left vacant on the side of the new MacBooks, and

  • the recently-released patent for a power connector that doesn't require a port "hole".

This is the basis of our theory that Apple will re-introduce the MagSafe connector, in a new format.

The new format of the connector wont require a hole in the side of the laptop, it simply aligns using magnets and connects seamlessly to the exterior of the laptop.

The end of the cable contains a housing, topped off with magnets, that align the cable in the correct position and orientation to transfer power and data. The space on the side of the laptop, where the port would usually be, can be blank on the exterior (no hole), and contain magnets on the inside. These internal magnets remain dormant until a matching set of magnets is applied by placing the end of the cable in close proximity on the side of the laptop body. The magnets then wake up, align the cable correctly, flick a software or hardware switch, and activate the connection. The connection can then transfer power and data back and forth.

Is this possible new implementation of MagSafe hiding inside the current late-2016 generation of MacBook Pro's? It seems not.

The current generation of late-2016 MacBooks use the Intel Skylake processor series, and top out at 16gb of RAM. They use the USB-C connector for powering the battery.

However, there is rampant speculation of an update to the line in 2017, where Apple may make minor system updates.

These conceivably include bumping the processor specification up from Skylake to newer Intel Kaby Lake chips, and introduce the possibility of a model with 32GB of RAM.

There's also been recent inconsistencies with the late-2016 MacBook Pro's battery life, and this could be improved when the 2017 systems ship with the more energy-efficient Kaby Lake chips.

So there's plenty of room for Apple to revise the MacBook Pro in 2017, and add in the latest technologies, that many were expecting at launch in late 2016.

Apple has the Power.

Which technologies does Apple use to power its other devices? Let's take a brief look.

Standard PC power cable: Mac Mini, Mac Pro, iMac, Apple TV.

Recently discontinued Thunderbolt Display.

Recently discontinued AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, AirPort Time Capsule.

Lightning Cord:

iPod, iPhone, iPad

Magic Keyboard 2, Magic Mouse 2, Magic TrackPad 2.

USB-C cord:

2014 MacBook 12 inch

2016 MacBook Pro 13 inch, 15 inch

Magnetic induction:

Apple Watch, Apple Watch 2

Magnetic Smart Connector:

Accessories such as the Smart Keyboard Cover for iPad Pro 9.7 inch and 12.9 inch

Is MagSafe dead, or just hibernating?

Apple disappointed many fans and tech-heads when they removed the MagSafe-2 connector in favour of the all-things-to-all-people USB-C industry standard port, beefed up with compatibility with Thunderbolt-3.

Yes, any of the USB-C ports on the newest MacBooks can power the machine and recharge the battery.

Many people loved the MagSafe connector for its ability to release under mild strain, saving many expensive laptops from crashing to the floor when someone trips over your power cord.

With the new patent in hand, and the precedent set for no-port magnetic connectors appearing on Apple products like the Apple Watch and Smart Keyboard, there is every chance that Apple may re-introduce us to MagSafe in the near future.

Will it be called MagSafe-3? Will it be called something else? That remains to be seen. The love for the MagSafe connector lives on, even if it's missing from Apple's latest laptops in 2016.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas.

XYZ Media Group

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