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Redditor Explains Why Apple Continue Making Frail Power Cables (reddit.com)
350 points by kmfrk on June 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments

My reply, I think it may not have made reddit as I've never posted before:

I'm calling BS on this whole thread. The reason for the breakage is in the green circles, not the red ones: http://i.imgur.com/EYSo5.jpg

The 2007 cables had small buttons on the sides that you had to press to disengage the connector from the device. This meant you had to pull on the body of the connector to remove it. The 2009 design removes the buttons and the catches, which means the plug can be removed by yanking on the cable. It's the yanking on the cable that is causing the problem in the image, you can tell because the wire sleeve is pulled back from the connecter rather than split horizontally, which is what would happen if it was a strain relief issue. Yanking from the cable rather than the connector affects all cables. Apple connectors typically fit very snugly in their sockets (which is a good thing generally) which means it takes more force to pull them out, consequently pulling out the wires as well. It's not a problem unique to Apple by any means. Ever have a pair of headphones that start to crackle when you touch the connector? Same problem.

Apple cords do indeed have strain relief, and they are fine for typical use. They may not hold up as well as a longer relief when bent at high angles consistently, but generally they do the job they need to do when sticking out the side of a device.

Though I like the button design, if I were to guess why Apple removed the buttons, is because I'll bet people were still pulling on the cords to try to remove the connector and doing far worse damage to cord and/or socket due to the mechanical connection between the two.

How do you explain the same split occuring on the Magsafe connectors? Those are designed to pop right out if you yank them by the cord, so very little strain is going to be put on the wire sleeve. I've seen a lot of Magsafes split in the exact way depicted in the picture.

In my extremely unscientific personal test, the iPod data cable actually came out of my iPhone with less force required than attempting to unplug the MagSafe cable from my laptop.

Of course, that wouldn't be the case when the pulling isn't completely in-line with the socket (although you can exert quite an amount of strain on a MagSafe cable by pulling it out sideways). I think it's too simple to assume that MagSafe wouldn't suffer from this problem.

The explanation given by the parent post rings true for me, certainly I've had these kinds of splits in plenty of cables with traditional "strain-relief" on. I think I'm going to stop unplugging things by tugging the cable. :)

That actually matches what I've observed. Namely that after 2 years of heavy use my magsafe has not had any issues with the connection.

I always remove the connector by tilting it first, instead of pulling. In fact I think there was something in the manual about this - though I can't find it at the moment.

My manual says: When disconnecting the power adapter from a power outlet or from the computer, pull the plug, not the cord.

But it doesn't say anything about tilting.

It's a magnet. Shearing / levering is easier than pulling. You're doing it, even if you're not thinking about it, just because you're not pulling perfectly straight. Intentionally tilting it away makes removing it a lot easier than doing so accidentally, though.

i've notice that if you go at an angle it's easier to yank the magsafe cable. straight on it a lot stronger. I'm assuming ti's due to the angle making the force be applied to a small region and not the whole magnet.

The new (90-degree) Magsafe connectors are a step back, in my mind, because if you pull in-line with the cable direction, they will not pop out. There is no leverage to torque it out of the socket and the force is taken up by the edge of the socket. I bet that if you pull in just the right direction, you can pull the cable off the connector before the connector comes out (if the laptop is kept stationary).

It looks nice, all shiny and aluminy though...

That's probably from people using their laptop too far from the power outlet so the connector is under strain, rather than moving closer to the outlet or using the grounded extension. Or possibly from letting the adapter brick hang from the laptop, rather than setting the brick on the table or another surface.

I've had several two MagSafe adapters break at the adapter side rather than the notebook side of the cable in the last 4 years. Apple uses the same sort of strain-relief on that end of the cable too.

While in the general case you may be absolutely right, my iPhone power cable suffers from this exact problem, and I have always removed it by grabbing the connector body, not the cable.

I know it's just one anecdote, and your assessment probably applies to a large number of these cases... but it doesn't apply to all of them.

I had the same incident on my ~2007 Macbook. The wires became exposed at the connector body slowly and finally failed on me. I wasn't aware I could return it (this was last year) and bought a new one. I had religiously pulled it from the body and it was practically a desktop with a 2nd monitor.

  > if I were to guess why Apple removed the buttons
Seems more likely that the ID people wanted a smaller connector, though that's just speculation.

I think there's a practical reason for smaller connectors, actually:

Shorter connectors mean less leverage. The shorter it is, the less likely it is to damage the internal plug / motherboard / case, which is essentially irreplaceable. Certainly in comparison with a far cheaper cord.

Good point.

This might have been one (of many) considerations when changing to the new Macbook power connectors. With the current design, there is no point in pulling straight on the cord as you described. The user must pull to the side of the strain relief, which allows it to do its job.

Has anyone had these problems with the new magsafe connectors?

I believe the new MagSafe connectors were redesigned partially to deal with strain problems. I forget where I read it but it made sense when I came across it.

As for the design, I'm inclined to agree with squidbot and say that the thread is a load of crap. It paints a poor picture of ID at Apple. I might be able to believe it at other companys but in the glimpse I've gotten into the design process at different keynotes, I find it hard to believe ID is so aesthetically siloed nowadays.

I'm sure ID passed deemed it as some sort of acceptable level of strain.

This article is true, if you look at how Apple designs their products, the look is always minimalistic. They will sacrifice features and function in favor of design. And in a way, this is really a big part of their success. Create attractive hardware and people will eventually appreciate the software.

Except, there are strain relief features built in to Apple power adapters.

Power Adapter: http://cl.ly/0r2n2S2z1b3K0L1E0R3t

LED Cinema Display Power Adapter: http://www.cl.ly/3i1B3R142q0S25223q2U

These may not be adequate, but clearly Apple industrial design has taken a pass at the problem. Anybody have photos of older power adapters to see if that sheathing has always been there?

The OP is referring to Apple's iPhone power/usb connector cable, as seen in this picture: http://i.imgur.com/yAywo.jpg. The dock connector strain relief is decidedly weaker (I have had two or three break on me personally) than other Apple products.

One thing that is interesting is how Apple's Industrial Design team, mentioned in the post, affected the design of the new Macbook power adaptors (like the one you linked to, http://www.cl.ly/0r2n2S2z1b3K0L1E0R3t). The old ones had the cord coming out perpendicular to the laptop. I liked that design a lot better than the new style, which is a bit awkward to plug in and leaves you either:

1. With a cord facing out the back of the laptop, then (probably) looping around 180 degrees and back to the power outlet, or

2. With the cord running parallel next to the laptop, completely blocking the ethernet port.

Obviously neither of these solutions is streamlined or Apple-like, so I wonder if the ID dept made the trade-off of a parallel connector with minimal strain relief, or a perpendicular connector with built-in strain relief.

Early Macbook Airs are to blame for that weird power connector. Look: http://www.slashgear.com/gallery/data_files/3/macbook-air-ha... The industrial design division probably wanted a thin bevel on all sides, and there is no way a classic connector would fit between the macbook and the table and retain the magsafe feature.

Latest macbook airs no longer need this hack and I think Apple will shift back to normal power connectors sometime soon because these metal ones are no good for anything except possibly for those monitor-to-laptop power cords.

I thought I read that one of the purposes for the new connectors was strain-relief related?

The old MagSafe connectors were a pain to use if you wanted to bend the cable towards the back and really seemed like an improvement (at least for my use). I admit I haven't tried them, though.

I doubt Apple will shift back to the normal power connectors unless they come up with a new design, though -- what's the point in going back?

i actually prefere this connector because on the classic on if I and sitting on the floor crosslegged with my laptop on my lap the old cable pops out.

This. Also if you're reading with the computer sideways in bed, this puts crazy strain on the old adapter, but the new adapter is just fine.

Huh? My power outlet is nearly always right behind where my laptop is. A cord facing out the back of the laptop is perfect for this - no more 90 degree turn.

I bring my Air to and from work every day; at work I have a power strip under my desk, and it's easier to access from the front (and also less of a hassle to unplug and replug every evening and morning). At home I have a power strip under the front of my couch; when I have the laptop on my lap on the couch the cord goes out the back, but if I place the laptop on my coffee table, the cord comes back to the front.

Do I represent a common use case? Dunno...

At work I have the fat grounded extension cord thingy plugged into the strip under the desk, with the end kept above the desk. When I get to work I just hook that to the brick. No need to crawl under the desk.

You're right, I generalized: the position of the power outlet varies with every place you plug in your laptop. However, I often find myself with the outlet behind me (i.e. sitting against the wall at an airport, restaurants; I take my laptop out of the house with me frequently), so I run into this problem. I liked the perpendicular adapter because in the worst case, the cord had to make a 90 degree turn.

Out of curiosity, how often are you using the Ethernet port at those places?

Haha, good point. I said ethernet because it is the first port blocked. The cord also blocks the display port and makes the first USB port awkward to use (this is the biggest annoyance for me, as I often have flash drives/my iPhone/a USB keyboard with me and there are only two USB ports on the laptop).

Also note older generation MB(P)s that are on newer-generation power adapters (I'm on my fourth power connector since I got my MBP in '07 -- two of them have used the new design) have a blocked USB port, not a blocked ethernet port, which is significantly more problematic for portable use.

You missed the worst part of the new magsafe. They don't perform the job magsafe was invented for: preventing an accident from yanking your laptop off a table.

Out of the 4 possible directions a cable can be yanked - 2 of them (towards the laptop body and the direction the magsafe cable is pointing) are now more likely to pull the laptop than they are to safely disengage the cable.

How did someone not notice this?

I have both on my table, so I tested it: new MagSafe releases much easier to the left; worse than the old one forward and backward; equally bad to the right; and, unlike old, doesn't release up at all for quite some distance.

This is the same issue as the old straight vs 90 deg headphone plugs.

Yeah, here's the adapter from my 2004 PowerBook: http://imgur.com/RTLKM

I've had two of those catch on fire from where the wires became exposed near the RCA + 1/8" headphone jack connector.

This is the same design used on older (circa 1994) Powerbooks, like the 520.

Here is a generic adapter for a 520. You can see the same connector...


It's interesting that the older ones DID have the vented / slotted strain relief sheath.

I wonder how much more expensive that is to manufacture vs a stylistically cleaner, simpler solid sheath.

And despite the article author's claim, the old style connectors also frayed, usually right at the strain relief. In my experience, while the magsafe style strain relief isn't perfect (it's showing a little wear after two years), it's lightyears ahead of the old barrel connector which required replacing every 9 months.

Injection molded plastic? I'm guessing the cost difference is negligible or non-existent.

I had a 2005 PowerBook with the same adapter, and, despite the slightly better strain relief, it still broke after a few years. And, like another poster mentions, it caught on fire (tiny tiny fire, really just the next step up from smoldering). That was... not so awesome.

The Magsafe ones are far too elastic and thus too weak.

I'm typing this on a 2006 MacBook Pro, which still works nicely, but this is my third power supply. The first one died at the transformator junction, and the second one at the plug junction. The new connector, introduced with the MacBook Air, looks more sturdy, but the transfo junction is still as weak.

My brother experienced the same problem once (at the transfo junction).

This is purely speculation, but maybe they're more careful with the higher power ones that can catch on fire... I've had older PowerBook power adapters short out to the point of sparks and smoke...

They've gotten better recently. I think the best example of this is the USB to dock connector cables, where the strain relief for the phone/iPod end is woefully inadequate.

Some teams may be more experienced than others? I just noticed the strain relief on my latest-gen power adapter. I never noticed that before. It is so cool.

I have a 2007 magsafe power adapter. It looks pretty much the same.

Two other places where aesthetic form trumps function in Apple keyboards and Macbooks: (1) arrow keys are much narrower (especially on the 11-inch Macbook Air) than on most notebooks (probably because unlike most notebook makers, Apple decided against breaking the "clean line" along the edge of the keyboard closest to the typist). (2) the axis on which the two halves of the "clamshell" (the bottom half and the screen half) turn is in a different place than on most notebooks. In particular, on a Macbook, the axis is between the top and bottom surfaces of the bottom half of the clamshell whereas on most notebooks it is about .3 inches (whatever is just enough to allow the two halves to fold all the way together) above the top surface of the bottom half (and more or less in line with the plane of the screen whereas on Macbooks it is about .3 inches from this plane). The probable reason for this choice is that it gives Macbooks a distinctive look even though the way the other makers do it seems more practical to me (because the notebook is more secure when it is not resting on a flat horizontal surface and because the probability of disaster is lower if the notebook is open on the floor and someone catches the screen half with their foot). Since I do not have the patience to create diagrams, I will stop here even though I realize many readers probably did not get what I mean from just this textual description.

As I recall, back in the PowerBook days, Apple touted how their new hinge design reduced the overall height of the notebook when open. As compared with the previous PowerBooks (which had much thicker bases), the titanium PowerBooks had a much lower profile, without really sacrificing anything except the ability to bend the display all the way back.

--and to have the front of the notebook off the ground (e.g., resting on/against my knee) while the back is on the ground. Well, you can do that with a Macbook, but (1) you stress the hinge and (2) you will probably move the screen a little.

Another way of visualizing (2) is to look at a hardback book or binder and imagine the top and bottom edges of the spine as two different possible hinges.

I have had many desktop keyboards (Dell, IBM, standard issue Apple), and my MacBook keyboard is by far the best keyboard I have used (warning: subjective judgement here). I actually prefer the narrow arrow keys. This is because, when typing fast, I only need the letter/punctuation keys, the return key, the space bar, and the shift keys. When using arrow keys, on the other hand, I am generally not typing but doing something else -- holding down command or shift and pressing an arrow key to scroll up a page or something else of this sort. In those cases, the smaller arrow keys actually make it easier for me to switch fingers (smaller distance to cover between the up and down keys).

There are many problems here and there:

1) Current MacBook's Pro edge is so sharp, it uncomfortable for many people.

2) For awhile, there was no anti-glare screen on new MacBooks Pro (only glossy).

3) Apple doesn't make ergonomic keyboard, probably because of aesthetic reasons, third-party ergonomic keyboards for Macs suck.

4) iPod/iPhone connector after prolonged use may damage port on device because contact blade is so thin.

5) Old MacBook Pro had mic in the left grill instead of having it next to the camera.

6) MacBook's speakers are facing backwards, reducing quality of the sound.

7) Keyboard lights on the current MacBooks Pro is visible between keys if you are looking at the keyboard at 45 degree angel - pretty common thing to do.

Re: 3) Microsoft makes excellent ergonomic keyboards. The Natural Keyboard 4000 is fantastic.

I was using it for many years (since it's release, was using Elite before). It's really well-balanced keyboard, response is good, but not ideal, I developed a taste for switches, so now I'm on Kinesis.

Is there actually any evidence to suggest Apple's 34-pin dock cables fail more often than others? I've owned 34-pin dock devices going back about 8 years now and I cannot recall ever having a broken dock cable. I have no doubt it does happen from time to time but from my own personal experience it doesn't seem any more or less common than other types of cables. I know plenty of people who lose them or want a second one to charge at work or carry in their backpack but where's the tar and feather brigade at Apple Stores over this? Why aren't my friends and family coming to me with mysterious charge/sync problems? At $30/pop if these cables were failing at a very high rate I would expect quite a lot more public outrage.

It may be that since iPods and iPhones are replaced fairly often, and include a new cable, people have a cache of spares? If so doesn't that alone kind of shoot down the designed-to-fail argument? Why include a new cable? Wouldn't the increased support costs from telephone/in-store support for these problems be far larger than selling $30 cables? It seems like the typical Internet conspiracy that doesn't really make any sense when you start to look at the details and notice there's absolutely no evidence to support the original claim being offered.

I've never had a problem with a dock cable. Also, you can get cheap dock cables for under $5, just not name-brand ones.

For that matter, I've never had a problem with macbook power adapter cords, either.

I understand the æsthetic decision, but there is no reason why Apple couldn't have made the wire that runs from the brick to your laptop detachable. That way I could actually replace it for a reasonable amount.

This. Over the past five years I have had to replace four Apple power adapters. Two caught on fire, one just stopped working, and one only worked when I duct taped it to death. They replaced all but one under warranty. But when I asked the Apple Genius in SoHo if this "whole catching on fire thing" happened often, he didn't say no. He just told me he wasn't allowed to answer that.

Unfortunately, I am compelled to share the same experience here. And being the "computer guy" for friends and family, I have seen the same kind of bad power adapters over and over. I thought that I was crazy or very unlucky because everyone tells me how great Apple products are.

And the replacements are quite expensive compared to the competition (I see mostly Dell and Lenovo, to be honest, no idea for the other ones).

I've replaced 3 in the past 2 years. All have melted right around the part that goes into the laptop. It has gotten to the point where I won't even leave it plugged in unless I am in the room.

Yep. You're describing pretty much what happened. It's always a nice when you get sparks and smoke though. :-)

I've had one catch on fire on my couch, and another melt at the mag-connection (whatever it's called). Cannot be a fluke.

Confirmed. Two fires here, also.

One with the RCA/headphone power and one with the magnetic connector.

Hm, well, just to provide one counter example, haven't had a bad adapter in 8 years and half a dozen apple laptops. Not saying it doesn't happen of course :)

Yeah, over ten years and five laptops between myself and my partner, and maybe seven or eight power adapters (we've had spare adapters for some of our laptops), we haven't had any problems with fires, sparks, etc. As the parent said, though, "Not saying it doesn't happen"- just not to us, apparently.

I will say, however, that the MagSafe design, even lacking strain reducers as discussed by the OP, has proven its value on more than one occasion. Besides the obvious advantages (i.e., tripping over the cord no longer sends one's laptop flying, nor does it cause catastrophic damage to the power port), I'm personally fond of the fact that you can step on the adapter all day long without damaging it. We had to replace an adapter once back in the day after accidentally stepping on the little round connector part, and bending it irreparably out of shape.

Detachable magsafe cables would also make it easier for third parties to sell power adapters, which is almost certainly why Apple power bricks are alone among major manufacturers in not splitting things this way.

Just put the same kind of DRM they put in the cable on the other side to auth with the brick.

They already have that. It can cause problems when the DRM circuitry screws up inside the laptop and causes the brick or the laptop to refuse to charge. It just makes things more unreliable.

Verifying that something on the other end is an authorised part is not digital rights management and has nothing to do with it. It is simply lock-in.

>I understand the aesthetic decision, but there is no reason why Apple couldn't have made the wire that runs from the brick to your laptop detachable.

A detachable wire would violate Apple's aesthetic; thus, you can't detach it. You answer your own question.

Does Apple not replace that for free like they do the iPhone/iPod chargers?

I've had mine replaced for free, but only after being accused by the 'Genius' of 'doing it wrong' by wrapping my cable around the provided tabs.

The proper technique is ridiculously subtle. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1630 That support article is a spiritual ancestor of the Antennagate defense press event.

It's not that subtle. Just don't try to wrap it really tight, which would put a constant strain on the wire where it enters the brick that would last until you completely unwind the cord again.

Frankly, everything in that document just looks like common sense.

The part that goes to the wall is detachable. What about making the other side detachable violates the aesthetic? Or am I thinking of something else?

Surely the mag-safe cables shouldn't get so damaged, because the cable detaches from the laptop under significant strain?

In terms of mag-safe on iOS devices, I guess it's not feasible due to it transmitting data.

They've changed the design from a plug that attaches perpendicularly into the laptop (and has a serious strain point that is not adequately engineered around) to one that plugs in "parallel". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MagSafe

This likely prevents strain by removing the probability that the cable is pulled at the strain point. It also looks cooler.

Only downside is that it doesn't untether easily; it's that the selling point of MagSafe?

I got my macbook pro last november with the new connector. The MagSafe connector is already broken. I attach/detach it maybe 3 times a day.

Seeing everyone I know that has a macbook have his/her adapter fail, not getting a replacement and then having to buy a new one for 80 EUR I took extra care. Still the cable broke inside the connector!

I've never had this problem with any other device or notebook. Seriously, power adapters should be simple and just work - except they don't for macbooks.

It's the plastic surrounding the cable as it connects to the magsafe magnetic connector that causes the problem.

The strain to break the bond of the magnet is much more than the strain needed to bend the cable to an angle that will (over time) damage the wire.

Ios transfers should prepared for a disconnection anyway, it is usb, plus power failures could take the host offline.

Apple hasn't charged me for either of the replacements I've gotten. If they're willing to absorb that cost, who am I to complain about how high the cost is?

Design isn't just about aesthetics, its about balancing aesthetics AND functionality. Apple's designers certainly knows this.

This was a poor design choice on their part, not just the design department taking precedent over engineering and customer service. The designers are personally responsible, not just the structure

Exactly, I've broken two of the cables so far and they are just bad. Period. Then, someone gave me a different, much more robust, cable, and I thought: "oh ok they realized their flaw, finally they improved their power coords". - Now I look at the image on the reddit post (http://i.imgur.com/yAywo.jpg) and realize the cables I've broke are the new ones, and the good robust ones are from 2007. Funny. Well Apple is usually top notch with these kind of things, and I don't believe the industrial design department didn't know about strain relief rings (that's their job FYI). So I'd go with the theory of planned obsolesce on these ones. Apple certainly is capable of pulling shit like this.

It doesn't have to be "planned obsolescence" which suggests an intent to get users to buy replacements. It could be that the trade-off just came out that way. I mean, I don't think they designed failure into the component so much as they deemed a higher than you'd want failure rate OK given the user experience they were chasing.

You really think so? I mean these are cables, there's no secret how to make them and they've been making them for decades, so they'll probably know what they are doing. There's no user experience on cables. It doesn't seem so far fetched to me.

I think it’s completely wrong to say there’s no user experience on cables. What about the fact that my sofa has to be a full four inches away from the wall because of the strain relief on the cord of the lamp I need to plug in behind it? There is no reason the cord actually needs that four inches of horizontal space—it’s just poor, thoughtless design that results in a poor user experience. Whoever designed the lamp should have put as much thought into the cord as they did into the rest of it, but instead it’s just an afterthought. To my way of thinking at least Apple has the guts to experiment with a different approach and see what happens instead of just applying the same good-enough solution everyone else mindlessly does.

Your comment "There's no user experience on cables" makes it clear that you really don't understand Apple. Users experience the entirety of Apple products and there isn't a user-facing component that doesn't get serious design scrutiny.

And yes, Apple probably know what they're doing. But they're not building failure into their cables, I can promise you that. They may be making a trade-off between the look and feel of the cable and its longevity, but that's very different from designing failure into the component.

> Users experience the entirety of Apple products and there isn't a user-facing component that doesn't get serious design scrutiny.

Even the mere act of removing an Apple product from its packaging when first bought -- something that only happens once -- is extremely well thought out.

There is no reason they couldn't take a flimsy piece of a plastic tube and cover the ugly-but-functional rings on the old style adapters. That way the rings retain functionality, and they are covered, everyone is happy. When the tube breaks, it just exposes the "ugly" rings, but the cable won't actually break.

Why they couldn't do this - I don't know. But there must be a good technical reason for it - if I -a software person- can think of something like that, I'm sure they already thought of it too

  But there must be a good technical reason for it - if I -a software person- can 
  think of something like that, I'm sure they already thought of it too.
The rings have to be exposed, that's how they work.

Consider a hypothetical cable that's flexible, but fragile. Fold it in half, and it explodes violently, killing your customers and inspiring such a mighty class-action lawsuit that it leaves your company a smoking grease stain on the surface of the Earth; and leaves a five year stretch on your resume really hard to explain at future job interviews.

So you add reinforcing ribs to the cable. Now when your suicidal users try to bend the cable in half, the ribs mash into each other, preventing the minimum bend radius from being violated, and thus preserving shareholder value.

But your designers spit out their macchiatos in shock on seeing your brilliant solution, and start waving their smooth, untouched by actual work, hands around; demanding that you cover up the cable strain relief with a thin plastic tube.

Well, that's kinda tricky. You can use thick plastic, and prevent the cable from bending entirely, or you can use thin plastic, which will buckle over the unsupported areas when bent, since of course a concentric circle has a smaller circumference, and look really obvious and terrible. There's no way to cover it and still have it work.

But the blingy solution breaks anyway, and is also ugly, beyond being dangerous.

Parent's point was that if we assume Apple is optimizing for showroom appearance, better to put the bling over the function bits and let the going break after a few months, instead of having only bling and letting the bling break and kill the device and user with it.

I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

"f I -a software person- can think of something like that, I'm sure they already thought of it too"

And I'm sure they did think of it and given the product they shipped, the idea was obviously rejected or delayed beyond the shipping of the current generation.

I'm not a huge Apple fanboy, (I'm in the minority at my organization using PC notebooks) but given how much Apple puts into designing the precise way in which users will experience and interact with their products, I can't imagine that they didn't evaluate many designs for this component.

well, that still wouldn't satisfy the designers because now they have a "flimsy" plastic tube on their adapter.

(not saying it's not a good idea, my pile of broken cables is evidence of that!)

I think if it was any harder than "flimsy" (on a scale from flimsy to unbendable), the stress angle would happen at the end of the stress relief part, which would be the same thing as not having the stress relief part. So, I think there needs to be some compromise that leverages the durability of the old model, but the design of the new model (I think it's better to have a more functionally-durable product, than design-durable product)

I've often thought about cutting the power cable to be able to slide on some heat-shrink tubing and then re-solder the severed cable.

...or using a hot glue gun to 'decorate' a flexible, protective layer around the wire/connector.

And it's not just about balancing aesthetics and functionality for every component of the system, but about the experience of and interaction with the entire system. So trade-offs aren't always obvious within the specific component that might seem to lean too far in one direction.

I wonder if this applies to the problem I've had ever since I've gotten a MBP in the fall. I am now on my 4th charger. No matter how I handle the adapter, it still manages to stop working within 3-4 months. The first one was probably my fault as I didn't keep the brick as ventilated as I could've, so I think it eventually fried itself.

The second one is still a mystery as I tried to use it one day and it didn't work. No LED, no charge. The third one had a slow death where it would take more and more jiggling and manipulating the cord to get it to work.

I don't get it. I wrap the cord around the little hinge things they have, keep them ventilated, and they still crap out on me. By far my biggest gripe with this MBP. If anybody else found a reliable way to stop this from happening, please let me know.

To provide a counterpoint, I've had my MacbookPro for over 3 years now and still have the same power cable and adapter as when I bought it. I never wrap it, toss it around in my bag with all my other junk, carry it in all weather, and I use it every day. My connection works fine and my brick hasn't overheated. Not to say you're not having those issues, just that there are good experiences and bad experiences with every product.

The problem is with the the cables from the past couple of years, that's probably why your stuff works and his more recent gear does not.

I bought my MBP in 2008, I'm on my third Magsafe cable now. The last 2 caught fire. Seems I need a new cable every year.

I use a 2008 MBP's brick to run my 2010 MBP much of the time. Haven't had any problems with it. Nor have I had any trouble with the 2010 brick.

My experience is similar, I still use the power brick which came with my first gen macbook (2006?).

I do wrap the thin cable around the little hinges when I take it with me.

I hope you wrap it in a figure-8 pattern rather than a circular pattern (to prevent twisting the cable).

Maybe this is the place where I've been going wrong. Although I was simply following the way it was done at the Apple store I got it from.

We'll see!

No, circular. Here is a picture: http://i.imgur.com/BuyqU.jpg

No, figure 8.

I have been through 6 in three years, and the protip is to not use the hinges when transporting the adaptor. just loop it up in a large loop so that there is no strain in the cord

my last cord has now lasted 9+ months since I started doing this (I move it daily)

Are you getting them all replaced at the same store? My only thought is that it would be a bad batch (given I haven't heard of this kind of chronic issue elsewhere).

I recall seeing some (non-Apple) hardware with case-to-cable transition designed as an inverted strain relief. Instead of a semi-rigid tube extending from device, the function was performed by proper curvature of the hole itself; nothing extended beyond the profile except the cable.

I'm having hard time describing it properly, but the hole walls had specific profile, elliptical extending outward. Pretty much like the big end of a trumpet. The most you could bend the cable was to make it touch the hole wall, and that profile of the wall was good enough to prevent cable cracking.

One disadvantage is that this kind of solution takes up some space insede of the case...

The place I've seen this is actually on a certain generation of the apple laptop power adapter.


Found under "7. Check for strain relief issues." on this page: http://support.apple.com/kb/TS1725

I always thought it was a great idea, but they didn't use it for long so it must have drawbacks.

[edit] I believe it was used on the aluminum powerbooks.

For me the problem is not that they bend and break, but that they melt! See: http://www.google.com/search?q=magsafe+melted

But before I go into this, let me explain the engineering of a power cable. If you look at a power adapter cable for any non-Apple product, you'll notice some metal "spikes" where the plug transitions to the cable. These spikes are called a heat sink. The purpose of a heat sink is to prevent the cable from heating to a severe degree if you use the charger for an extended period. The heat sink allows the cable to have a nice dissipation of heat instead of heating up and melting.

Sorry, I have no idea which spikes you're talking about. Could you elaborate or find a picture?

Actually, I think using the proper gauge wire prevents the heat buildip and melting.

As the power cable becomes twisted and crinked, the wires fray, causing the same amount of current to run over less wire, turning the wire into a toaster heating element.

Why isn't the iPod/iPhone/iPad connector using the magsafe design?

USB carries both power and data, while MagSafe carries only power. This doesn't sound like a problem until you realize that the USB pins have to be unplugged in a strict order: data before power. This is enforced in the connector with varying pin lengths. With MagSafe, there is no guarantee of connection order.

That seems like an easily surmounted problem to me. A MacSafe-like connector could probably easily accomplish the same if there was a need for it.

variable pin length in the magsafe

Simple: it carries data. If the power cord on your laptop is yanked off for a minute it's usually not a big deal. If you disconnect the iOS device cable you could interrupt a data transfer. There is a higher risk to disconnection.

It is USB, and the host could lose power at any time (it doesn't have to be a laptop). Communication interruption is a likely case they should plan for.

A more probable explanation is that even with a magnet the devices are light enough that a yank on the cable would send the device flying before the magnet connection came loose.

I'm sure they do plan for interruption, but with magsafe you invite it, in a sense. Especially on a portable device.

You're probably right that the physics of the magnet don't make it as useful. That makes me wonder how thoroughly Apple has investigated it.

Those two cables do use the same design. I believe that the magsafe cables are a bit more durable and I think that's mostly because those cables have (necessarily) more isolating rubber.

The MagSafe design has four fairly large pins. The iPod Dock Connector has about forty tiny ones. It wouldn't work well mechanically.

A USB port has 4 fairly large pins...

Why couldn't they just only use the four pins included with USB? (although that would mean an end to the standardized dock connector)

Not sure if a strong magnet in your pocket would be good for transit cards or other mag stripe things.

The unfortunate part I find is that many companies are following Apple in this 'design trumps all' to their detriment.

How often are you actually wrapping up a power adapter, and bending the cord to obscure angles? Compared to your headphones, or phone charging plug.

It seems most headphone manufacturers have moved away from relief rings, and that results in much shorter lifetime for the headphones due to failure at this point. I've got my zune charge cord here, and it doesn't have these rings either. Kindle power cord has one small relief on either edge (but doesn't get used as much anyway.

Am I giving Apple too much credit? Did they start this trend? or has this poor design always existed?

Here is a picture that shows descibed problem on such cable: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaako/2316658032/

I've always had that occur on the other end, where the wire meets the connector.

I like Apple's hardware, but they seem to be useless at power cables and batteries for their laptops. What makes matters worse is the replacement parts are so expensive. I ended up removing the battery permanently because it grew too big for the compartment. I also cut open the power cable so that the wires could be rejoined and taped again. I never had these problems with ThinkPads... sigh.

Am I the only person who doesn't have a problem with this? Am I the only person who removes dock (and MagSafe) connectors by pulling on the plug, not the cable?

Heck, I'm not even OCD. I'm pretty lazy and I still do it this way.

Apple headphones on the other hand, I go through 2-3 pairs a year (due to rain and the rigors of running). Fortunately, the Apple Store just sends me replacements without much hassle at all.

Yep, I'm on my second adapter for my MacBook. First broke between the adapter and the cord going to my computer. The second sits beside me with that same spot covered in duct tape. It's REALLY frustrating since the replacement adapter was $80 and it's less than a year old.

Is there something about your usage, or the way you arrange things, that might contribute? Do you wind the cord tightly?

In the late 80s, Apple bought a Cray supercomputer to help them design molds. They simulated plastic flow and helped them do fewer turns of the injection molds they used for computer cases.

Makes sense, considering that each mold cost upward of half a million dollars.


The "Industrial Design is King" thing is true at other companies as well. I've seen horribly broken products go out the door, where the fixes involve making ID changes, but the ID changes couldn't be made to happen because of (a) the lead time -- usually a year -- and / or (b) it would have destroyed the "cool look" of the product in someone's eyes.

I feel the explanation could fit in the headline.

Great. Now I know why cable fails. From other sources I know why GPU failed (twice, and more to come, as fix by heating GPU to 200C is temporary).

Once I'll figure why battery swollen to thrice the original size (thank gods it didn't exploded or spilled toxic substance on somebodies lap) then I'll know why my girlfriends mac book is such a pain in the ass.

Sounds like a reasonable tradeoff to me.

I can understand why some people might not think that way but don't be surprised that there are some people who do.

These poorly-designed adapters have a history of shorting out and catching fire. Yes, I am surprised that anybody would think "looks nice" is a more important feature than "won't burn our customers' houses down".

Can you point me to cases of houses burning down? I've no doubt it's possible, but lots of things are possible. I got a small flame from mine when it burned out but it was short-lived and would probably have had to have been sitting in a basket of tinder to cause any serious damage to anything beyond the cord.

If that is indeed a problem then that’s a problem. I don’t know. Stats?

This looks like a decent solution: www.macmagsaver.com

I am not affiliated with them in any way. Though, I will be ordering one very soon.

So, if I summarize correctly the red comment, they choosen the new design because someone at Apple prefers it.

Apples' designer's choice, or what seems to be a small heat/fire problem covered by warranty? I haven't heard of anyone's laptop being damaged by this, and the only people paying are out of warranty. It's a bother I don't want to see, but at least they cover it.

Does anybody know if the adapters are covered by the warranty?

If you don't think apple did a good enough job: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kjell/5818859629/in/photostream

Is this really an issue? I have never heard anyone say anything but good things about mag-safe adapters.

I keep wishing the patent would expire so that all consumer devices could use them.

in other words, why apple makes such good looking products

Mine is fine (it's the smaller of the two without the release clips). Unfortunately the USB plug on the other end has split AFTER the strain relief resulting in sticky tape bodge.

Damn... If I need to replace another power brick from Apple...

So Engineering should come up with a solution that isn't ugly. Problem solved.

I guess I'm the only one who hasn't had any problems with a Mag Safe adapter in the 3 years I've owned a MacBook Pro?

Here's a much simpler explanation:

Because the cables cost $30 and revenue is good.

I know you hn turkeys hate reddit but the resulting comment thread is f'ing hilarious.

Planned Obsolence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence). Yes Apple is doing it, does it surprise anybody?

edit: well thanks for the downvotes, I know RDF is strong here but consider how they removed the strain rings, how they charge $30 for a cable and why they use a proprietary port. Making cable is no rocket-science, this is definitely planned.

Maybe they charge $30 for the cable as a signal that customers should be a little careful with it, even though it comes 'free' with an iPod/iPad/iPhone.

It's funny how any link to reddit.com is always upvoted like a rocket.

I very rarely see Reddit submissions; they generally are for very insightful or interesting comments, often from primary sources.

Full text, in case Apple catch wind of the comment:

> I used to work for Apple and interfaced with every division in the company, and I know EXACTLY why this happened. It has nothing to do with trying to get customers to buy more replacement adapters, but rather with the hierarchy of power at Apple.


> But before I go into this, let me explain the engineering of a power cable. If you look at a power adapter cable for any non-Apple product, you'll notice some plastic "rings" where the plug transitions to the cable. These rings are called a strain relief. The purpose of a strain relief is to prevent the cable from bending at a severe angle if you bend the cable at the base. The strain relief allows the cable to have a nice, gentle curvature if you tweak the cable instead of bending at a severe 90 degree angle. This gentle curvature prevents the cable from being broken through repeated use.


> Now let's look at the hierarchy of power at Apple. As with any company, Apple consists of many divisions (Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, etc.) THE most powerful division at Apple is Industrial Design. For those of you unfamiliar with the term industrial design, this is the division that makes the decisions about the overall look and feel of Apple's products. And when I say "the most powerful", I mean that their decisions trump the decisions of any other division at Apple, including Engineering and Customer Service.


> Now it just so happens that the Industrial Design department HATES how a strain relief looks on a power adapter. They would much prefer to have a nice clean transition between the cable and the plug. Aesthetically, this does look nicer, but from an engineering point of view, it's pretty much committing reliability suicide. Because there is no strain relief, the cables fail at a very high rate because they get bent at very harsh angles. I'm sure that the Engineering division gave every reason in the world why a strain relief should be on an adapter cable, and Customer Service said how bad the customer experience would be if tons of adapters failed, but if industrial design doesn't like a strain relief, guess what, it gets removed.

Do you think apple could delete that comment on reddit? How?

Legal pressure on the author.

"tl;dr: Apple is run by idiots." - Reddit comment

This is why I much prefer HN for any technical discussion.

If you appreciate the conversation brought to you by HN, why are you just dumping apparently inferior comments from other sites here instead of actually making a contribution?

I was making a criticism of content in the link which is what we're discussing in this thread. Are we not?

The comment in question had 60+ upvotes.

I also made a valid contribution to this thread earlier: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2642344

1) It was a meta-criticism. Of the site, not the content. 2) It serves no purpose but to drag HN down to the level of Reddit.

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