Remember AirPower? The world got a glimpse of Apple’s failed multidevice charger when a video of a working prototype surfaced online Thursday. But the reminder also demonstrates that AirPower was never going to be better than what we got instead: MagSafe.
AirPower was good but limited
The AirPower saga played out a few years ago so some people might need a refresher. It was a wireless charging mat that could handle three devices — like iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods — at once. And it wasn’t necessary to carefully align these. They’d charge no matter where they were placed.
On top of that, Apple was building software into iOS so that an iPhone on an AirPower could show the battery level of devices also getting juiced up. Thursday’s prototype video shows the software was going to look cool.
— Giulio Zompetti (@1nsane_dev) August 5, 2021
To be clear, this wasn’t some leaked device. Apple formally announced AirPower in 2017 then axed the project in 2019 and admitted it just couldn’t get the device to work right.
This wasn’t a disaster. For all its nice features, AirPower wasn’t a dramatic improvement over a lot of other multidevice chargers. And it was only useful at your desk or bedside table.
Two ways to solve the same problem
The basic problem with standard wireless chargers that AirPower was trying to solve is that power doesn’t flow if the charging coils in a handset and charging mat don’t line up fairly closely. Someone can dump their iPhone on the charger at night and get up in the morning to discover that their handset hasn’t charged at all because it was an inch too far to the left.
So Apple covered the top of AirPower with coils, hoping one would make the right connection. But reportedly the electrical fields generated by these coils interfered with each other, creating excess heat. A lot of it.
This seems to have sent Apple back to the drawing board. And it came up with an alternative solution.
Why MagSafe is better than AirPower
Rather than build in a bunch of charging coils, the MagSafe system aligns the one in the iPhone and the one in the charging mat with magnets. These hold the handset in the right place for power to flow.
As an iPhone 12 user, I can tell you the system works. I dump my handset on a MagSafe charger every night and it’s fully juiced up every morning. So it solves the problem Apple wanted AirPower to handle.
But that’s just the start of what MagSafe can do. Build it into a power bank and you can charge your iPhone wherever you go without the hassle of cables. MagSafe can attach a wallet or a game controller to your handset. And it gives desktop iPhone charging stands a cool floating look.
I’ve tested many of these accessories too, and they’re (mostly) great. And none of them was going to be possible with AirPower.
Maybe we’ll get both
Nevertheless, some people surely would have preferred AirPower. But it turns out this might not be an either/or situation. A reliable source reported recently that Apple is still exploring products that work similarly.
And that’s great. More choices are better. But if it turns out that we never hear about AirPower again we should all be glad that we got MagSafe. It’s the better option.