Why Do Apple Devices Have All These Weird Chargers? 2021


Key Takeaways

Satechi's new USB-C dongle charges the Apple Watch and AirPods.One little puck packs two kinds of ‘wireless' charging.Apple's charger situation is an utter mess. Satechi

Satechi's latest widget is a tiny square puck that charges an Apple Watch or your AirPods. It's either the best or the dumbest accessory ever.

As a design, the $50 Satechi USB-C Watch AirPods Charger is clever and compact. You can plug it into an iPad Pro or a MacBook and charge your AirPods or Watch, depending on which way you flip it. In fact, there isn't much to say against the little charger. It's perfect for both travel and desktop use. The problem comes with the fact that you even need such a thing.

So what's going on with Apple's chargers? Why are there at least four different wireless charging methods, plus a couple of wired solutions? Let's take a look at this mess, and see if we can peek a way out of it all.

Charging Standards

There's a standard to charge gadgets now. Modern phones, cameras, laptops, speakers, and so on all come with USB-C sockets, making it easy to charge them all with the same cable and AC adapter. The USB-C protocol even lets these gadgets specify how much juice they need, so the same charger is as safe to use for a pair of AirPods as it is for a MacBook Pro.

Charlie Sorrel / Ach5

The same is true for "wireless" charging. The Qi standard works with any device that can be charged using magnetic induction. The same charging puck can power Android phones, iPhones, and headphones.

And yet, as these standards become more widely adopted, Apple keeps adding new ways to charge its devices. Worse, it no longer supplies a charger with its iPhones. This should actually be great, since removing chargers has significant environmental benefits, but Apple also sells a confusing range of expensive chargers, offsetting these benefits.

Apple's Charging Shame

In an ideal world, you'd be able to charge all your devices with a USB-C cable and power brick. To its credit, Apple now supplies iPhones and other non-USB-C devices with Lightning-to-USB-C cables, so you can use your USB-C bricks. MacBooks are all-in on USB-C charging, too. But then it gets absurd.

Here's a list of Apple chargers/cables that are totally non-standard. Or partly non-standard. Or just a bit weird.

MagSafe for iPhone

The iPhone 12 uses a small inductive puck that sticks to the back of the iPhone and charges it. It works like a standard Qi charger, only it's not a Qi charger. However, if you line things up right, you can use it to charge other devices, like the AirPods Pro.

MagSafe for MacBook

A new MagSafe charger is rumored for the upcoming 2021 MacBook Pro. We have no idea what it will look like, or how it will work. It could be the same as the iPhone puck; it could be similar to the old MacSafe MacBook charger Apple ditched for USB-C. Or it could be something new, like the iPad's smart connector. Either way, it will almost certainly coexist with USB-C charging on the same device, which is utile, but odd.

iPad Smart Connector

The iPad Pro and iPad Air have a little three-contact connector to charge the device and pass data. It's used exclusively to connect external keyboards, but could be used for other purposes.

And there's not just one version, either. Older iPad Pro models used a smaller set of contacts, on a different part of the iPad case.

Apple Watch Charger

The only way to charge the Apple Watch is to use a magnetic puck that sticks to its back. It's a great method, but it's yet another charger you have to carry with you.

Special Mention: Lightning Accessories

Lightning started as a welcome replacement for the old 30-pin Dock Connector that debuted with the iPod. These days, it's used to charge and sync the iPhone, the Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad, and to charge AirPods and some iPads.

At launch, the Lightning connector was superior to the then-current micro-USB, because it was less wobbly and could be plugged in either way around. Now, Lightning is really a legacy connector, with few, if any, advantages over USB-C. Apple may keep it around until the iPhone goes all-in on inductive charging, and the current Magic keyboards and trackpads are replaced.

Getting Better

Hopefully, a lot of this will be replaced with something sensible like USB-C, but given Apple's track record, who knows? Then again, there are signs of change. It's almost unheard of for Apple to reverse its design decisions, and yet here we are with the probable return of MagSafe to the MacBook, after Apple began to phase it out in 2016, and the possible return of the SD card reader.

Maybe Apple is listening to what its customers want, and in a few years we'll wake up and all of this will feel like a bad dream.