MagSafe on iPhone 12: I still want USB-C, but I was wrong about Apple's magnetic charger

MagSafe has already snapped itself into my life. But how many variations will there be?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

MagSafe is a snap-on charger, and it's great. But it's also proprietary, and iPhone 12-only for now.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The iPhone 12 (and iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max) has a new magnetic charger system called MagSafe (and the first-gen MagSafe accessories are officially available for purchase.) It's a familiar name because MagSafe used to be on all the MacBooks, once upon a time. It auto-attached and easily popped off so that tripping over a wire wouldn't knock your laptop off a table... and was generally appreciated. 

I didn't love the idea of MagSafe when Apple first announced it for the iPhone 12, because all I wanted was USB-C. I wanted a normal nonproprietary charger. Instead, Apple doubled down on its proprietary charge options. It seemed interesting but unnecessary.

I still want USB-C. But I was wrong about MagSafe.

Read more: iPhone 12 takes us a step closer to Apple's portless future


Strong magnets, and works with supported cases.

Scott Stein/CNET

New, and yet familiar

I got to try out an iPhone 12 Pro and MagSafe charger, and after only a day or two, it had already won me over. The charger costs an extra $39, and doesn't come with a charge adapter, so you also need one of those (any USB-C one will work, but here are some good charger adapter suggestions). But it feels very much like a giant Apple Watch charger for the iPhone . And that should have been my first hint that I'd appreciate the idea.

The Apple Watch has a snap-on proprietary magnetic charger too, and it works similarly. It pops on easily, the watch makes a little chime and I see the charge status. Same thing for the iPhone. It makes charging the iPhone a no-brainer, as long as I have the charge cable nearby. It seems to drift to rooms I'm not in, and other rooms don't have the charger because, well, those other rooms have Lightning, or USB-C, or Qi chargers.

You have to remember to bring that MagSafe charge cable with you, and in that sense it's like every specialized wearable tech charger I've seen for the last decade. Little ones, big ones, pronged ones. They work well for the wearable you've got, but don't lose them.


Apple Watch and MagSafe: nope, this does not work.

Scott Stein/CNET

How many MagSafe variants will there be, and will they ever do data transfer?

My first thought is that Apple needs to put MagSafe on all its devices. But then I wondered, how will that happen? Will that large disc-based charger snap onto future iPads , or MacBooks? Will magnet-covered zones exist, ready for MagSafe? Or will different-size adapters emerge, made for particular devices? Much like the Apple Watch, as compared with the iPhone 12?

I also wonder whether MagSafe could combine with some sort of data, to allow accessories or also act as a dock. Suddenly I feel like I'm in Moto Mod territory. Apple expanding upon its smart-connected accessories feels like an idea long hinted at and somewhat overdue. Smart Connector keyboards have been around for years, but not much else.

The long-term questions about MagSafe are many, but right now I like it a lot more than I thought I would. But that doesn't mean I don't still want USB-C. I still hope Apple doesn't skip USB-C on the next iPhone. I'd prefer MagSafe be a doorway to an additional landscape of accessories, and hope that Apple stays far away from replacing that one port left on the iPhone.

Watch this: Our in-depth review of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro