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Buyer beware: ‘MagSafe compatible’ is not the same as ‘Made for MagSafe’

One of the iPhone 12’s most interesting new features is MagSafe—a ring of magnets, an NFC antenna, and wireless charging at rates up to 15W. It can enable a whole new ecosystem of accessories, including cases, wallets, stands, car mounts, and more.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of third-party accessories marketed as “MagSafe compatible,” and you should know that this is not the same as being an actual officially licensed MagSafe accessory, which Apple calls ‘Made for MagSafe.’ Some of these chargers, wallets, and mounts may work perfectly well, but you should know what you’re buying, and “MagSafe Compatible” is not MagSafe.

‘MagSafe compatible’ is usually just magnets

There’s nothing Apple can do to prevent an accessory maker from throwing a ring of magnets on their wireless charger, battery pack, case, stand, or car mount. That’s what most of the accessories billed as “MagSafe compatible” are.

Take, for example, the sleek Satechi 2-in-1 Magnetic Wireless Charging Stand. While it doesn’t feature MagSafe in the name, it is often promoted as being “MagSafe compatible.” Indeed, the stand exclusively uses magnets to hold up your iPhone 12, with or without a MagSafe case on it.

That’s fine but look more closely: the stand has a maximum charging rate of 7.5 watts, just like all other non-MagSafe wireless chargers. Real MagSafe chargers can go up to 15 watts. A consumer who sees “MagSafe compatible” might rightly expect the faster charging rate that Apple promotes as a MagSafe feature, and wonder why they’re not getting it.

Real MagSafe does more

Real MagSafe devices combine a ring of magnets to securely attach your iPhone together with a single-wire NFC antenna that allows the iPhone to identify the device. Currently, that’s not used for much other than a simple color-matched animation when you attach a MagSafe case. But in the future, it could allow your iPhone to behave differently when certain devices are attached.

Most notably, when your iPhone recognizes a legit MagSafe charging attachment, it can crank up the charging rate to 15 watts. A regular charging stand or car mount with a ring of magnets in it will not be recognized as “MagSafe” by your iPhone, and will max out at half the speed: 7.5 watts.

There’s also no guarantee of interoperability with “MagSafe compatible” devices that are not official Apple-licensed MagSafe accessories. A MagSafe case, for example, is designed to allow you to attach other MagSafe devices to it, and MagSafe chargers are designed to worth through MagSafe cases. A MagSafe wallet needs to not only attach via magnets but to have its insides shielded so that they don’t mess with the magnetic strip on your cards.