Apple's MagSafe connection has been keeping our Macs safe for almost 10 years now. The MagSafe connector disconnects from a Mac when the wire is yanked out, leaving the Mac safely on the desk while only the wire drops to the ground.
The presence of MagSafe on an Apple laptop was a given right up until Apple announced the new 12-inch Retina MacBook with no MagSafe adaptor. Apple stunned everybody with the latest MacBook Air by announcing it would be powered using a USB-C cable, instead of MagSafe. Why has Apple removed MagSafe from the MacBook Air, and will Apple be removing MagSafe from all its laptops? These are questions that need some answers.
How does MagSafe work?
MagSafe works by connecting the power socket to a Mac using magnets. This is instead of the more usual clasp/socket technique of inserting the cable inside the laptop.
The connection between a MagSafe adaptor and the Mac laptop is made using two magnetic halves. These clasp together and power is thus provided to the laptop. According to Apple's MagSafe patent:
"The surface area of two magnetically attracted halves determines the number of magnetic flux lines and therefore the holding force between them because the holding force is proportional to the contact area between the two magnetically attracted halves."
The advantage to using MagSafe is safety. When a laptop is sitting on a desk or table, and plugged in to a socket near the ground, the wire between the two is a trip hazard. Tripping over the adaptor cable drags the laptop off of the desk and it falls on to the ground (and is potentially damaged). MagSafe protects the laptop because the cable instantly unclasps, leaving the laptop on the desk and the cable flapping harmlessly on the floor.
The true genius of MagSafe is that it works by "non-axial" force. This means that if you pull it in any direction other than straight out it disconnects, and there's virtually no force required to remove the connector.
It's also a unique Apple feature, something practical that Apple fans can crow about safe in the knowledge that rival laptops are missing this one vital feature. It's the kind of small, practical, detail that comes from thinking outside of the box. Features like MagSafe are why Apple can charge so much for its laptops: no wonder the Apple fans are mad. Read: Complete guide to ports on Macs, iPhones and iPads
MagSafe 1 vs MagSafe 2: Which MagSafe adaptor do I need?
Apple's MagSafe 1 connector. Notice that it is slightly fatter than the more recent MagSafe 2 connection
There are two different versions of MagSafe, conveniently known as MagSafe 1 and MagSafe 2. MagSafe 1 is slightly larger, and was introduced in 2006 along with the original MacBook and MacBook Pro. The first edition of the MacBook Air also used MagSafe 1, but had a slightly thinner head.
MagSafe 2 is thinner and was designed for all MacBook's released after 2009. MagSafe 1 and MagSafe 2 are not interchangeable, but Apple sells this MagSafe to MagSafe 2 converter, enabling you to use the older MagSafe with the newer devices.
Apple no longer sells the original MagSafe adaptors, so if you have an older MacBook and are looking for an original MagSafe adaptor the easiest way to get one is to find an old one for sale on eBay.
This L-shaped connection was shipped with 2009-20012 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models. It is still MagSafe 1 though and is compatible with older MagSafe MacBooks
Which Apple devices have MagSafe?
The original MacBook and MacBook Pro models (pre-2009) all use the original MagSafe 1, as does the original MacBook Air. All MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models after 2009 until 2012 feature the L-Shaped MagSafe 1 connection. This is a redesigned head that is more robust, but compatible with older MacBooks.
All MacBooks Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro models since 2012 (apart from the recent 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display) use the newer MagSafe 2 connection. This is thinner and wider than MagSafe 1.
It's pretty easy to tell which version your MacBook uses by looking at the slot. The MagSafe 1 adaptor is thicker, while MagSafe 2 is longer and thinner. But the range of similar connections can make it confusing if you don't know what you're looking for. This Apple Support document: Find the right power adapter and cord for your notebook has more information on MagSafe connections and Mac laptops.
Why has Apple removed MagSafe from the new MacBook?
Good question. The new 12-inch Retina Display MacBook uses USB-C instead of MagSafe. However, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display has kept MagSafe (even though it incorporates other new features, such as the Force Touch trackpad).
We're not wholly sure why Apple has opted to remove MagSafe from the new MacBook. It's certainly not a popular decision amongst Apple fans; who are loath to spend £1,049 on a new laptop only to risk dragging it to the ground. It's possible that the new laptop was too light for MagSafe to work effectively, and many users have noted it's not as effective on the 11-inch MacBook Air as on the heavier MacBook Pro. It may be that weighing less than a single kilo limited the effectiveness of MagSafe so Apple opted to do away with it entirely. The same could be true of other small devices such as the iPhone and iPad (which have never used MagSafe).
Alternatively, it could be that Apple is moving away from MagSafe along with all its physical connections as it ushers us into a wireless world. In this world it wants as few connections as possible, and if it only has one connection then it might as well be a standardised USB-C port.
Will I be able to buy a MagSafe adaptor for the new MacBook?
Apple had the patent on MagSafe, but USB-C is a standard adaptor (it even uses a regular USB power block like an iPad, albeit one that's 29W.) Unlike MagSafe there's nothing stopping a third-party manufacturer from creating a magnetic clasp USB-C solution, but whether it'll work effectively with the ultra-light laptop depends on the strength of the magnet required to keep it in place during use. We'd be surprised if a canny third-party manufacturer didn't at least try to fill the MagSafe void.
Ultimately though, we may simply not need MagSafe any more. As this Boy Genius Report says: "assuming you apply the specific force required to pull the MacBook off the table, there’s one more thing that should put your mind somewhat at ease, and that’s the MacBook’s build quality.
The device lacks physical hard drives or other components that could be damaged by such a fall, it has a very compact motherboard, and it's still made of durable materials that will help it survive the accident."
Read definitions of more Apple-related tech terms in our Apple users' tech jargon dictionary.