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Apple's MagSafe for iPhone: How it works, accessories and more

Chargers, wallets and more: Everything we know about Apple's magnetic iPhone attachments.

Apple announcements September 14 2021: iPhone 13, new iPads, Apple Watch Series 7, and more

MagSafe accessories, such as the wallet seen here on the iPhone 13, can attach directly onto the iPhone using magnets.

Apple

Apple's MagSafe system for the iPhone has grown quite a bit since its debut on the iPhone 12 line in 2020. Unlike the original MagSafe charger for Apple's MacBook line, which relied on a proprietary cable, a variety of official and third-party accessories have sprung up supporting the iPhone's MagSafe, because it relies on simple magnets that attach directly to the phone. Most recently, Apple has brought MagSafe to the charging case for the third-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro.

That means MagSafe is quite universal. Apple does sell a line of official chargers, phone cases, wallets and other accessories that can snap onto the back of 2020 and 2021 iPhone models. And Apple being Apple, these official accessories do include a few exclusive tricks. But third parties have also rolled out a line of magnetic accessories that work quite well, even if they don't have Apple's official certification.

So a little over one year after MagSafe's debut, what are the many ways you can take advantage of it on your iPhone 12 or iPhone 13? And why is there such a difference in pricing between all of the different chargers? Let's dive into the state of MagSafe so far, taking note of all of these differences.

How does MagSafe work on the iPhone?

Apple's iPhone 12 line and iPhone 13 line are embedded with what Apple describes as "an array of magnets" (Apple says they're recycled) around a centered charging coil that can pull up to 15 watts of power -- twice as powerful as wireless charging on previous iPhones, but on par with phones from other brands. 

When you bring the charging end of the power cord close to the iPhone's back, those magnets pull it into place. The same goes for other MagSafe accessories and, depending what you're clipping on, your iPhone will display a brief animation related to the accessory to confirm that it's locked on.

However, not every MagSafe charger supports that 15-watt charging speed. Apple's official chargers and certain third-party accessories like the Belkin Boost Charge Pro 2-in-1 Wireless Charger Stand with MagSafe include that support, but other magnetic chargers cap at Apple's 7.5-watt wireless charging speed. Apple says the faster charging speed it offers is partly accomplished by the magnets that align the charger to the phone. It's also worth noting that Apple's MagSafe charger does double as a Qi wireless charger for any phone that supports the standard, including Android phones.

Does the iPhone come with a MagSafe charging cable?

No, Apple will include only a USB-C-to-Lightning cable (and no power brick or earbuds) in the box with new iPhones. Apple's MagSafe Charger and MagSafe Duo, the latter of which can charge an iPhone and an Apple Watch, are sold separately.

Can I charge an Apple Watch with a MagSafe charger?

No, the Apple Watch line only charges with an Apple Watch charging cable or on the MagSafe Duo charger using the portion designed for the Apple Watch. Apple does offer faster charging speeds for the Apple Watch Series 7 using a USB-C Apple Watch charging cable, but at this time the Apple Watch cannot charge using MagSafe nor any other Qi wireless charger.

Can I charge the AirPods with a MagSafe charger?

Maybe. The new third-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro now come with wireless charging cases that support MagSafe. For the AirPods Pro, just make sure you're buying the newest version of the earbuds: The earbuds themselves are the same as what's been on the market for the last two years, but the case is the main difference. The second-generation AirPods and other earlier AirPods cases do not support MagSafe.

How much will Apple's MagSafe accessories cost?

The MagSafe section of Apple's store has a big range of prices. The standalone MagSafe iPhone charger is available for $39. Clear and silicone cases cost $49 and the leather wallet costs $59. Apple's MagSafe Battery Pack costs $99 and the Belkin Boost Charge Pro 3-in-1 Wireless Charger with MagSafe costs $140 for the privilege of charging an iPhone, an Apple Watch and AirPods on its stand.

Are there cheaper MagSafe accessories?

You can find cheaper third-party MagSafe accessories, which often have one of two catches to them. Some MagSafe accessories are essentially a holder for Apple's MagSafe charger, such as the $40 Otterbox Folding Stand. That means in order to actually use this device, the cost including the MagSafe charger is $79. The other catch, as mentioned before, could be that the accessory is magnetic but capped to the 7.5-watt wireless charging speed, such as this slightly cheaper $27 magnetic wireless charger

There are also third-party accessories that are simply magnetic attachments without an official "MagSafe" designation, such as a $23 magnetic wallet accessory or Anker's $16 magnetic phone grip.

You can see our best MagSafe and magnetic wireless charger list here.

Won't the magnets mess up my bank cards?

Apple says the wallet accessory is specially shielded to prevent damage to credit cards, debit cards and the like. However, you should remove any wallet accessories from the back of your phone before charging, to protect credit cards, work badges or any other item with a radio chip or magnetic strip.

A bonus to the 2021 version of Apple's MagSafe wallet accessory is that it now supports Apple's Find My feature just in case you lose the wallet somewhere.

apple-airpods-3-magsafe

The MagSafe-enabled AirPods 3 stick to Apple's wireless MagSafe charger. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Does MagSafe work with waterproofing?

No, every iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 model is rated IP68, meaning water resistant up to 6 meters for 30 minutes. But there have been rumors that Apple might eventually make an iPhone without any connection ports, and if MagSafe catches on maybe that will lead to greater waterproofing. In fact, MagSafe wireless charging may lead to even greater waterproofing, if Apple ever decides to go portless.

Will my current wireless charger work with the new iPhones?

Yes, the new iPhones are backward-compatible with existing Qi-enabled wireless charging devices. So if you use a Samsung wireless charger, it will work with your iPhone. 

Apple's MagSafe charger is also backwards-compatible with older iPhones, but will only deliver 7.5 watts and won't snap on magnetically. 

iPhone 12 Magsafe all combinations layout

MagSafe accessories like chargers and the wallet can be stacked atop others, like cases.

Apple

Didn't Motorola have magnetic accessories first?

Yes. In 2016, the Moto Z series introduced a phone that connected magnetically to Moto Mods: cases, wireless battery packs, a projector, a mobile gaming console and even a fancy DSLR-like camera rig with optical zoom

While Motorola issued magnetic Moto Z phones for a few more years, the clever modules never caught on (even Motorola didn't always seem enthusiastic), and neither did the enormous ecosystem of accessories of which Motorola foretold. Modular phones in general have had a rough time hitting the market over the past decade, with similar flameouts from LG and Google's Project Ara.

motorola-moto-z3-product-photos-22

The Motorola Z3 used magnets to connect to accessories (called "Moto Mods") all the way back in 2016.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

What about MagSafe on the MacBook Pro?

After a few years of retirement, Apple brought back its laptop-based MagSafe port in the 2021 MacBook Pro line. While MagSafe is a proprietary power cord for the MacBook, its magnetic connection plugs in quickly into the laptop and, for anyone with a propensity to trip over their power cord, gracefully disconnects without dragging the whole computer down. The MacBook Pro had been outfitted exclusively with USB-C ports for the last few years, requiring dongles to access additional connectivity. 

This version of MagSafe is not compatible with the iPhone's version of MagSafe, so there is nowhere to place your MagSafe wallet onto the MacBook. You can, however, plug the MagSafe iPhone charger into a USB-C port to separately charge your phone.

What are your favorite MagSafe accessories? And are there similar modular accessories that you like for other phones? Talk about them in the comments.