Wireless Charging Wastes Tons of Energy. Will MagSafe Help the iPhone 12?

A new charging method could make a big difference

Eric Ravenscraft
Debugger
Published in
5 min readOct 15, 2020

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Credit: Apple

The convenience of wireless charging comes at a cost that, if adopted worldwide, could have a measurable impact on the environment. Earlier this year, Debugger examined wireless charging and found that, on average, it can consume around 47% more power than wired cables just for a slightly more convenient charging method. On Tuesday, Apple announced new MagSafe charging accessories that, when used with its new iPhones, will help cut that down. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s exactly the kind of user-oriented example that other tech companies should follow.

The problem with wireless charging is that even under the best of circumstances, more power is wasted than would be when charging via a cable. However, wireless charging pads rarely operate under the best circumstances. The charging coils inside both the phone and charger need to be aligned, or else even more power is wasted. Since many charging pads don’t make it obvious where the coils are located inside the device (and phones even less so), it’s common for us to simply place them close enough, resulting in a lot of excess power waste.

This is where Apple’s new MagSafe connectors come in. Wireless charging accessories for Apple’s latest iPhones will include circular magnets that snap directly to the correct spot on the back of the phone or the case it’s in. On top of making it possible to have removable accessories like a wallet, it also drastically reduces the likelihood that charging coils will be misaligned while charging.

“When it comes to inductive charging, alignment can have a huge impact on efficiency,” iFixit technical writer Arthur Shi told Debugger. “I think there will be much more reliable charging with magnets.”

This would likely have a measurable impact on how much power wireless charging consumes. In my initial piece on this topic, I shared a story about how during one charging session, I thought my coils were properly aligned, but in fact, the phone wasn’t charging at all. In this test, power usage was 80% higher than using a cable because the coils were off by mere millimeters.

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Eric Ravenscraft
Debugger

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.