One of the great challenges of consumer-focussed industrial design is to make technologies invisible until you need to use them. It's why smartphone manufacturers strive to make the lightest, thinnest devices possible, why camera designers make zoom lenses that can retract and sit flush within the body of the shooter. Apple's MagSafe magnetic charger was one such "invisible" technology. And now it's dead.
Last night saw the launch of Apple's all-singing, all-blinging, new MacBook. Fanless, just 13.1mm thick and weighing just 907 grams with a high-resolution retina display, it's a thing of wonder, with an edge-to-edge keyboard and force-sensitive trackpad maximising the space used in an otherwise petite 12-inch device.
The "New MacBook" (if that's what we're to call it) also brings with it the introduction of USB-C. Despite the need to go and upgrade all your cables or buy an overpriced adapter, this is an inherently good thing. Reversible, it addresses a key usability issue with existing USB standards, and in time will allow for a single cable to basically carry any information (video, data, audio) you can imagine, as well as power.
The tiny, slim port's introduction was necessitated by Apple's continual push to make the MacBook "invisible" in its footprint. Which means the 13.1mm thick laptop can no longer find room for MagSafe.
This is a sad, sad thing.
MagSafe is one of the most ingenious parts of existing MacBook design. Bringing power to your laptop with a satisfying magnetic click, it stays firmly secure, but only just so, allowing the cable to yank harmlessly free should someone tug on it.
For anyone that's used their MacBook plugged in at a coffee shop, conference or around children, you'll appreciate this as a device-lifesaver. Where other laptops would be pulled to the ground or have their push-in charging ports damaged, MagSafe lets your MacBook live to fight another day. Over enough time you grow to forget it's even there, doing a great job, and is working in even less dramatic situations, loosening its grip on your machine if you're using it lying down at a funny angle perhaps, putting angled pressure on the charging port.
USB-C (at present, at least) doesn't offer this, and that's in part Apple's fault too. USB-C is a universal standard, which again in itself is great as it means your USB-C accessories should work across Mac and PC. However, Apple holds all kinds of patent information over MagSafe and the way its magnetic connection brings safe power to your computer. Either Apple brings a MagSafe-like alternative USB-C option to its new MacBook line (in turn splitting the "universality" of the connection, one of its major selling points), or allows MagSafe to fall into obscurity. It seems the later has been settled upon, and Apple certainly isn't going to give the patent up to rival laptop manufacturers. We may never see another laptop with MagSafe ever again.
And that's an awful shame. MagSafe, defender of MacBook charging ports, protector from workplace trips and falls, do not go gentle into that good night.