Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The Chequered History of MagSafe

Jordan Merrick:

There’s an Apple support article that details how to reduce cable strain and damage on your MagSafe power adapter but that’s about it, it’s not even in the getting started booklet that’s in the box with the Mac (at least it hasn’t been on any Mac I’ve owned). Unless you decided to one day research the best methods for keeping your adapter free of cable damage then you’d never really know. Ironically, this was the exact same problem Apple’s smaller profile 30-pin dock connector cables were experiencing since they shrank it and removed the need to pinch the sides - customers would just yank the cable.

[…]

With the previous T-shaped connector, pull the cable in any direction and it’ll detach. With the L-shaped connector, pull the cable in most directions and it’ll detach. The one direction it won’t detach is if it’s pulled back away from the rear of the Mac (or the rear-right of the Mac), the cable can’t detach since the MagSafe port is recessed. All it needs is a sharp tug of the cable backwards and it’s enough to cause the exact problem MagSafe tried to avoid - a flying Mac.

[…]

By reducing the height and increasing the width of MagSafe, Apple could move back to the more versatile T-shaped connector that all new MacBook Pro/Airs ship with. The magnet is still pretty strong (in fact I think it’s still a little too strong) but the cable’s strain relief appears to be better and my cable has been in constant use for the better part of 8 months and it looks just as good as it did out of the box.

3 Comments

Strain relief on Apple's connectors has been absolutely dreadful ever since the original iBook (I used to own one of the tangerine toilet seats myself, so can attest to just how fragile their DC power cables were). It's not just pulling on the cable that's the problem; bending it also plays havoc, especially if the power supply's to the right side rather than the left, causing the cable to be pulled into a tight 180° bend. Ah, the price of being a fashion victim.

Caveat their crashing-on-the-floor drawback, I do miss the old G4 PowerBook barrel connectors; with those I would just wrap a series of cable binding sleeves around the plug and cable and problem solved. I've yet to find a satisfactory solution for the MagSafes though. I just had to replace my old MBP last month, and already the cable on the new machine's MagSafe2 connector's showing a very slight kink where it meets the rubber collar. I'll wait till it's a bit more noticeable then return that block while it's still under warranty. It's not an auspicious start.

What really peeves me though is having to throw away an entire, otherwise perfectly good power block every time the low-voltage cable gets damaged. You'd think for a company that likes to claim Green credentials, they'd have the good sense to make such a fragile lead user-replaceable. (Compare the AC lead, which is trivial to swap.) Not only would it save all those power blocks going in landfill, it'd be safer too as users'd be much more likely to replace a low-cost cable as soon as it gets damaged than try to eke just a bit more life out of an expensive power supply that's rapidly becoming a real fire hazard.

"What really peeves me though is having to throw away an entire, otherwise perfectly good power block every time the low-voltage cable gets damaged. You'd think for a company that likes to claim Green credentials, they'd have the good sense to make such a fragile lead user-replaceable."

From the Cupertino POV, it's a feature, not a bug.

I think MagSafe is great. The only problem is that Cupertino has viewed it solely as profit booster.

Note the issue has raised above. I'm of the opinion that it is designed that way to increase profit in forcing a more expensive replacement over the more sensible idea has advances.

Note how hard Cupertino has fought to halt a 3rd party market in MagSafe cables.

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"I used to own one of the tangerine toilet seats myself, so can attest to just how fragile their DC power cables were ... Caveat their crashing-on-the-floor drawback"

Two notes on the beloved tangerine iBook I also used to own:

- You could quite cheaply replace their fragile power cables with perfectly functional 3rd party cables.

- Forget dropping-on-the-floor. Those iBooks had enough padding and cushioning that you could toss-them-across-the-room and they'd still come out OK. The real genius of that product was its essential indestructibility. (Of course, Cupertino doesn't make stuff like that anymore due to profit boosting.)

"I'm of the opinion that it is designed that way to increase profit in forcing a more expensive replacement"

Maybe - I'm not going to speculate. That said, I suspect replacement cables would provide bigger percentage margins than new power blocks, and users would be quicker to replace them as they don't have the same sticker shock. So it probably wouldn't work out much different in $$$, and customers would be happier for it. In any case, I'm sure Apple are far more interested in selling complete new machines than spare parts for existing ones.

"Those iBooks had enough padding and cushioning that you could toss-them-across-the-room and they'd still come out OK. The real genius of that product was its essential indestructibility."

The cases were indeed tough (certainly bounced mine a few times), though I still ended up fixing or replacing most parts over its lifetime (broken DC connector, broken modem connector, failed CD, replacement power supply thanks to rotten DC cable, etc). Still fond memories of it though. The big disadvantage was the sheer bulk of the thing: it made even your standard Dell brick look svelte, and screen size was lousy when compared to a rectangular enclosure of the same dimensions. So I don't think you need read anything more into it than customers prefer a more compact, slimline design that maximizes screen estate, and Apple very sensibly gives them the products they want; i.e. don't assume malice when simple market forces suffice.

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