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The best true wireless earbuds of 2020

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In terms of sheer numbers sold, Apple’s AirPods have dominated the market for true wireless earbuds for the past few years. But plenty of new models have come on the scene that deliver better sound and improved battery life and performance. And now there are many appealing totally wireless earbuds to choose from — with even more on the way.

We’ve got lists of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds and the best cheap true wireless earbuds. This list is, simply, the best true wireless earbuds. Remember that to get optimal performance, the best wireless earbuds tend to need to feel comfortable, with an ergonomic design, and fit right, with a tight seal. If you can’t get a snug fit with in-ear headphones, you’ll be sadly disappointed and think you got ripped off, which is why I suggest buying your pair of wireless earbuds from a vendor with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. We’ll update this list regularly as we review new products.

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020


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Sarah Tew/CNET

The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2, available now for preorder and shipping in April, aren’t cheap at $300, but they’re better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, great audio quality, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the original’s four) and better noise reduction during calls. And, if you don’t like them in black, a white version is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.

These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones). 

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof). 

Read the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of truly wireless earphones. That’s largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, Apple AirPods are expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use them so much you’ll probably wear the battery down — it does degrade over time and isn’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose them first. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

At first glance, the Elite 75t, which were originally supposed to cost $200 but now sell for $180 (£170 and AU$299), seem more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller size (the buds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t’s), their boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t aren’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and don’t have active noise canceling, they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls.

I was impressed with the sound. It’s detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also “tuned” by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals — and right there with what you get with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there’s now an app for iOS users) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy smartphones.  

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony hasn’t been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, but its new WF-1000XM3 model may change that. While this pair of headphones isn’t cheap, as far as sound quality, they’re the best wireless earbuds in this price range, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from SennheiserBeatsMaster & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. They also have a feature those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

The only drawback is the WF-1000XM3 earbuds aren’t rated as sweat-proof or waterproof headphones. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproof (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but these earphones sound pretty good. They don’t have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They’re also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value for less than $50.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).

Read CNET first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Jaybird got off to a bumpy start in the world of true wireless — that’s “AirPod-style headphones” — when it released its Jaybird Run workout headphones back in October 2017. Updated to the wireless in-ear Jaybird Run XT earlier this year, the Jaybird Run earbuds were well designed but had some small performance issues that held them back from being great. But their wireless successor model, the Jaybird Vista (cue the Windows Vista jokes), include design, battery life and performance improvements that make them the quality product I’d hoped the Jaybird Run would be — and simply the best wireless earbuds for runners.

At $180 (£160, AU$280), this pair of sweat-proof earbuds are a little more expensive than they should be, but they’re among the better true wireless earbuds to hit the market last year. They’ll appeal to those looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless sports earbuds that feature full waterproofing.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 — fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Read the Jaybird Vista review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Libratone Track Air Plus has been out for several months in Europe, but only recently went on sale in the US (it lists for $200 but it’s currently selling on Amazon for $190 with a discount coupon for $10 off). It doesn’t sound quite as open to the ear as the AirPods Pro, but the audio is clearer and it has well-defined bass. You can choose between neutral, bass boost and treble settings in the companion app. The noise-canceling is also decent — maybe not quite on par with the AirPods Pro, but close. I liked the fit of these — the in-ear buds stayed in my ear well (I was able to run with them) and the case is only a little bigger than the AirPods Pro’s case.

The Track Air Plus works well as a headset for making calls, and a firmware upgrade did improve headset performance. That said, the noise reduction isn’t quite as good as that of the AirPods Pro. People said they could hear me clearly and loudly, but the earphones didn’t muffle background noise quite as well as the AirPods Pro. 

These use Bluetooth 5.0 and have support for AAC and aptX. 

Note that Libratone also makes the Track Air, which is $150 (Amazon is currently discounting it by $10 with a coupon) and doesn’t have noise-canceling features but is otherwise similar.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splashproof).

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you can’t afford the Apple AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 are a good alternative and are a top model for making calls. Like the AirPods Pro, this pair of Anker Soundcore earbuds do a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise around me). While these Anker Soundcore earbuds don’t have active noise cancelling, they sound nearly as good, fit comfortably and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise. They cost only $100

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX5 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

Read full review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, the Beats Powerbeats Pro’s jumbo charging case with its built-in battery is a notable drawback. But incorporating all the features that make Apple’s AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that won’t fall out of your ear is a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy these Beats Powerbeats earphones somewhere that has a good return policy, in case you’re in the small minority who have ears that aren’t quite a match for them.

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker is better known for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, these bluetooth earbuds share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, though this Anker Soundcore model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

I’m not sure they sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).  

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The second-generation Apple AirPods add a couple of small but key improvements to the original, including always-on voice recognition and a wireless charging case option. They’re also a quality device for making calls, indoors and out. 

The base model remains at $159 (£159, AU$249) while the version with the wireless charging case lists for $199 (£199, AU$319). However, you can often find both models for slightly cheaper online.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I don’t really know how stylish the 1More Stylish True Wireless earbuds are (yes, that’s their name), but they do sound good. With a list price of $100, they’re among the less expensive models on this list. 1More made a name for itself with its wired earbuds, the Triple Drivers, which sound great and were a good value when wired headphones were still a thing. The same clear, balanced sound is present in 1More’s first true wireless earbuds; they don’t sound as good as the Triple Drivers, but the audio quality is very good for true wireless.

These have more of an audiophile sound profile, with more “accurate” sound, so bass lovers may be a little disappointed, but I liked them. Of course, it helped that I was able to get a tight seal with one of the included sets of ear tips. However, the stabilizer fin did nothing for me — I just jammed the tip into my ear to get a secure fit. 

Their battery life is rated at up to 6.5 hours (expect closer to 5 battery hours if you’re listening to music at higher volumes), with an extra 17 hours or so of battery life available from the charging case. These use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our 1More Stylish True Wireless review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus are the second generation of the company’s MW07. This pair of earbuds features greatly increased battery life (10 versus 3.5 hours), Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise-cancellation with two microphones on each bud. They may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as very good sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal. These in-ear headphones are known for more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. 

Available in four color options, for $299, these wireless earbuds include a swanky chrome charging case that comes with a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag). The case, with its built-in chargeable battery, gives you an additional three charges (it charges via USB-C). These have support for aptX (but not AAC) and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).

Read more.

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Esports pioneer Dino Ying talks to TechCrunch about the next phase of VSPN

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Following the news that China’s esport giant VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has raised close to $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings, TechCrunch interviewed founder and CEO Dino Ying via email about his strategy for the company.

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Shanghai, VSPN was one of the early pioneer in esports tournament organization and content creation out of Asia. It has since expanded into other businesses including offline venue operation.

VSPN began hosting the first large-scale esport event with offline audiences in August, although tournaments now operate under strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

TechCrunch: VSPN has a large content production ecosystem surrounding its esports activity. Can you expand on the detail behind your stated short-form video strategy? Will this involve TikTok?

Ying: VSPN intends to use our world-class video production capabilities and industry insights to create different forms of content. We will give our existing fans and a wider audience a new and vivid esports experience. Kuaishou, as our investors and a strategic partner, will support in all ways as a media platform to help our content reach more users. Short-form video is an important part of our future strategy and we look forward to working with platforms all over the world in this regard.

TC: What is VSPN’s share of the eSports market?

Ying: There is no official estimation of the size of the esports market but VSPN is far the largest esports organization in China, with over 1000+ employees and covering every major esports tournament you’ve ever heard of. By many measures, we are the largest esports organization in the world and will continue to expand.

TC: Why do you think Shanghai has become a center for esports?

Ying: As the biggest and perhaps most international city in China, it has a vibrant and increasingly sophisticated economy. Tech innovation and new industries are actively encouraged to grow here.

The Shanghai government has implemented supportive measures and policies to encourage the growth of esports both domestically and internationally. Thanks to these measures Shanghai has become an international hub for the biggest and best tournaments in the world

VSPN events have returned, despite COVID-19

VSPN events have returned, despite COVID-19

TC: How important is research into eSports for VSPN and why?

Ying: It is vital for VSPN. As an esports total solutions provider aiming to build a sustainable global esports ecosystem, data and R&D allows us to give our fans a richer experience. The research center will allow us to continually improve as a company and develop the industry.

TC: You are the cofounder and chairman and CEO by title. What is the role of cofounder Ethan Teng?

Ying: Ethan Teng is Co-founder and president of VSPN. Ethan as one of the most important partners of VSPN, with his dedicated esports industry experience, he plays a vital role in leading and managing the company’s strategic goal setting and day to day management.

TC: What is the nature of the strategic relationship with Tencent?

Ying: VSPN is a key partner of Tencent in the esports industry. With Tencent’s support, VSPN has built a leading position in esports tournament content production. Since the emergence of esports in China, our deep-rooted industry expertise has helped further develop the esports ecosystem to grow and mature. Alongside Tencent we will continue to generate new opportunities within the industry.

TC: What made you choose these partners and why? What was the strategic thinking behind these decisions?

Ying: Together with Kuaishou, VSPN aims to establish an esports short-form video ecosystem to diversify existing content, and to build the connections between top quality creators and channels. With an extensive portfolio in the consumer and TMT sectors, both Tiantu Capital and SIG will utilize their industry insights and expertise to aid VSPN’s strategic development. With our investors, we will empower esports to be the new sports for the next generation.

TC: In addition to the core esports tournament and content production business, VSPN has branded esports venues. How important are these other businesses – like the venues – to the core offering of VSPN? What sort of growth do you expect in the next few years?

Ying: Regardless of business lines, VSPN’s core mission is to provide the best eSports experiences for our fans. And these experiences include not just online viewing experiences, but also offline ones where fans physically attend. We see our offline business as a natural way to extend our services to our fans; it is an important supplement to our overall offerings. We expect to grow it per our fans’ and partner’s demands.

TC: Mobile esports, especially the KPL and PUBG MOBILE (or Peacekeeper Elite in China), have attracted more and more female audiences. What is the future of eSports among women / girls?
Ying: Mobile gaming has really helped extend eSports’ reach to female participants and audiences. Rightfully so, we see a future of eSports where female participants take a more prominent role than they have done. Not just on stage as athletes, but also off stage as fans and more importantly backstage as top quality producers and decision-makers in the industry. The impact of having more female fans, athletes and professionals is exciting and will be hugely beneficial to the wider industry.

TC: What is the future of esports in Augmented Reality?

Ying: We think eSports in its full form will look and feel a lot different from what we’ve seen so far in sports and entertainment. The possibility of integrating real world gaming and virtual competitions is fascinating. VSPN is only beginning to test the boundaries of new technologies such as AR, VR. The emergence of these technologies will help us create fresher experiences, and the possibilities are endless.

VSPN headquarters

VSPN headquarters

TC: Please tell us more about your personal history?

Ying: Firstly, thank you for having me – it is a real pleasure to speak to TechCrunch and be able to announce our fundraise to the world. I have been working in the gaming and esports industry all my life and I’m excited about the future. With the team at VSPN we are proud to be pioneers in the esports industry.

I live between Beijing and Shanghai, but I spend a lot of my time travelling to other Chinese cities like Xi’an, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where we have esports arenas and business interests. Usually I travel internationally to some of our overseas operations and competitions, so I look forward to that when travel becomes easier.

I am a fan of traditional sports too and an avid football fan. I follow some of the European leagues – whenever I can, I go to matches to enjoy the atmosphere; I went to Stamford Bridge early this year and loved it, but seeing the AC vs Inter Derby live is hard to beat…

TC: Why did you get into this business and how?

Ying: Mostly because I am a HUGE gaming fan! I’ve been playing computer games since I was a teenager and enjoy playing all types. Earlier this year I played COD Warzone as soon as it came out and often play PUBG Mobile; I’m extremely lucky to be in an industry which I’ve loved since I was very young. It’s a great way to connect with friends and I am proud to have worked in game development and publishing for my whole career. 5 years ago, esports seemed like the obvious next step because of the competitive element. We saw the beginnings of a trend and founded VSPN with a world-class team to make that potential a reality.

VSPN is very proud to be leading the world in a relatively new industry. We think esports will continue to grow exponentially and will be an incredibly important part of the entertainment industry in years to come. To lead a Chinese company with a global future is really exciting.

TC: What motivates you as a businessman?

Ying: Bringing new forms of entertainment to millions of people around the world and building a global business.

TC: Who inspires you most in the business world?

There are so many fantastic businessmen in China who are doing some really innovative things at the moment. For example, the live-streaming industry has become enormous in 2020 due to the pandemic and has offered entrepreneurs a new way to sell products and engage with new audiences.

If I had to name one it would be Mark Ren (COO at Tencent Holdings) – he is an exceptional businessman. The way he has helped create sustainable ecosystems in the entertainment space and captured trends is something every businessman should aspire to. This is something VSPN works hard at and we are very proud to be such close partners of Tencent.

TC: What is your opinion of Silicon Valley?

Ying: It’s an amazing place and has shown the world how technology can improve lives all over the world. For many years it has led the world as a centre for creativity and innovation and continues to be an inspiration to entrepreneurs around the world. In China, we have lots of Silicon Valleys!

TC: Is there anything else you’d like to say to TechCrunch readers?

Ying: This has been a challenging year for many businesses and the esports industry has had to adapt, but I think the world has seen how big esports is and how it can bring communities and cultures together. As the industry grows there will bigger and bigger online and offline tournaments across the world, especially with 5G and mobile gaming becoming even more popular. We look forward to being at the forefront of esports for competitors all over the world and hopefully some of your readers will enjoy watching our original content and tournaments.

Finally, with celebrities and big brands seeing live streaming and casual gaming as a new way to engage with a wider audience, the future for VSPN is very, very bright.

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Facebook could face state, federal antitrust lawsuits in November, sources say

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The timeline could still change, cautioned the people familiar with the probe, adding that work is ongoing.

State attorneys general in particular are in the late stages of preparing their complaint, according to the people. A fifth person, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, added the state investigators sought to shore up an initial roster of participants by Friday. The bipartisan group has focused its attention on Facebook’s strategy of purchasing potential competitors, sometimes to acquire and kill them, according to two of the people.

The FTC, meanwhile, has not yet voted to bring a case against Facebook, though some of the people said a meeting of its Democratic and Republican members this week — first reported by The Washington Post — involved presentations illustrating how the agency might proceed.

A lawsuit against Facebook would be the second major antitrust action against Silicon Valley in a matter of weeks. The U.S. government joined 11 states to sue Google on Tuesday over allegations that it engaged in illegal, anti-competitive tactics to ensure the dominance of its search engine.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for the attorney general of New York.

Federal officials initiated their antitrust probe into Facebook last year after the company agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a government probe over a series of privacy scandals. The FTC, one of the country’s two competition enforcement agencies, specifically set its sights on Facebook’s purchase of its past rivals — Instagram, a photo-sharing app, and WhatsApp, a messenger service — and the extent to which the tech giant’s sprawling corporate footprint has come to violate antitrust laws.

State investigators revealed their own plans last October: James, the Democratic attorney general of New York, said at the time she would lead 46 other states and territories in a bipartisan, wide-ranging antitrust inquiry targeting Facebook. James said in a statement then that state enforcers had grown “concerned that Facebook may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising.”

Since then, Facebook has faced a slew of criticism from regulators nationwide who believe it brazenly has sought to expand its digital empire in a way that undermines competition and leaves its billions of users with worse service, including fewer privacy protections. A probe conducted by House lawmakers, concluded earlier this month, appeared to furnish fresh evidence of the company’s brass-knuckled tactics — illustrating for members of Congress the extent to which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had sought to neuter potential rivals before they could mount a serious challenge.

One memo showed Facebook leaders discussing a “land grab” to acquire its possible threats. Another 2018 document prepared for Zuckerberg seemed to suggest Facebook felt its greatest competition came from its own subsidiary apps. Investigators led by Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, said the trove they amassed ultimately showed how Facebook’s past purchases “tipped the social networking market toward a monopoly.”

Facebook staunchly has rebutted the charges, pointing to the fact that federal regulators had the chance to prevent it from acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp and did not. The company’s arguments foreshadow the likelihood of a major, lengthy legal battle between the tech giant and state and federal antitrust enforcers that try to exact severe penalties for Facebook’s business practices.

“Acquisitions are part of every industry, and just one way we innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people,” Facebook spokesman Chris Sgro said in a statement this month in response to lawmakers’ report. “Instagram and WhatsApp have reached new heights of success because Facebook has invested billions in those businesses.”

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iPhone 12 MagSafe is the sleeper feature that could outshine 5G

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The MagSafe is one of the quietly coolest features on the new iPhone 12. 


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Apple’s MagSafe, which allows you to magnetically snap on attachments, may be the new feature in the iPhone 12 family that provides you with the most immediate impact. And that’s knowing that the company — and the entire wireless industry — has spent a huge amount of time shining a spotlight on 5G.

It’s almost sacrilege for me to write this. After all, I’ve been covering the potentially game-changing nature of 5G since 2015, when I first wrote about Verizon’s intention to field-test the super-fast cellular technology. But the truth is that initial deployments don’t represent huge boosts in speed, and your first experience with 5G may elicit a shrug

MagSafe, on the other hand, offers some tangible benefits regardless of where you live or whether you’re near the right cell tower. A MagSafe connection charges faster than previous iPhones, bringing it on par with the quick charge that Android phones have long enjoyed. And, as dumb as this sounds, there’s something cool about watching your phone snap into place, visual confirmation that you didn’t fumble the placement of your device. 

“There’s no more guessing where the sweet spot is,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC. 

Read more: MagSafe on iPhone 12: I was wrong to doubt Apple’s magnetic charger

MagSafe has its own long-term potential that’s exciting. The magnetic pins on the back of the phone harken back to other attempts to push an ecosystem of attachments, from Motorola’s Moto Mods to the Essential Phone PH-1’s modular camera. Neither of those companies moved enough phones — the Essential, in particular, was an outright flop — to really interest many accessory makers to take risks on bold ideas. Most of the time, we got extra battery packs. 

Apple’s scale changes everything. 

Paving the way 

Apple’s enormous reach — Strategy Analytics estimates it will sell 180 million units next year — means a potentially huge market for anyone looking to build MagSafe accessories. The opportunity is particularly rich for anyone looking at attachments beyond the basic wireless charging stand. Think game controllers, camera grips, selfie sticks and, yes, wireless charging battery packs that could change the way we hold or interact with an iPhone. 

“We can’t wait to see the innovative way that others will use MagSafe, creating a robust and ever expanding ecosystem,” Deniz Teoman, vice president of hardware systems engineering at Apple, said in Apple’s virtual presentation this month.

That isn’t hyperbole. Apple has a way of popularizing and legitimizing tech trends, from mobile payments to wireless charging. Where Motorola and Essential fell short, Apple could popularize the notion of magnetic attachments. 

Apple itself filed a patent for a folio case with additional power supply and the ability to charge AirPods, according to Patently Apple. While those patents don’t always yield products in the real world, they’re an indication of where the company may go in the future. 

Others are pumped for the opportunity.

“We are very excited to offer new ‘Made for MagSafe’ cases,” OtterBox CEO Jim Parke said in an e-mailed statement. “Apple has the innovative prowess and expansive reach to herald in an accessory ecosystem that can have a lasting impact on how we use our smartphones.”

Phone accessory maker Belkin , meanwhile, has already unveiled two MagSafe accessories, a charging stand that can handle an iPhone 12, Apple Watch and Apple Airpods, along with a more conventional car mount. Steve Malony, senior vice president of Belkin, said the initial products were more “bread and butter” when compared to future accessories on the roadmap. 

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“Some of the ideas that we see come across our desk are pretty wild,” he teased. “It’s going to be fun to take those ideas and put them in play.” 

Modular dreams

MagSafe feels like a spiritual successor to Google’s Project Ara, a modular phone that used magnets to attach smaller components to the handset, allowing you to build it up like you were assembling something out of Legos. 

Modular was hyped as a potential breakthrough innovation in smartphones. LG tried its hand with its G5 phone, which allowed you to swap out the bottom of the device for different attachments like grips and hi-fi speakers. The trend died off as quickly as it rose, with Google putting the project on hold, then quietly scrapping it. The G5 was such a flop that LG followed up with a far more conventional phone the next year.   

moto-z3-5g-mod-1

The 5G Moto Mod that gave the Moto Z3 5G capabilities before any other device. 


Derek Poore/CNET

“The bigger issue is that fully modular designs are more appealing to engineers than to consumers,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. “Smartphones are highly evolved products, and people buy the best phone they can afford that meets their needs now, not a platform to tinker with later.”

Moto Mods represented a streamlined version of the modular concept, offering a full phone with different backs you can swap in and out. That concept allowed Motorola’s Moto Z3 to be the first 5G phone on Verizon’s network, thanks to a 5G Mod that slapped into the back of the device. But even then, a Mod-less phone felt like half of a device, and the gimmick was core to the phone. 

Apple has refined it further, offering a complete handset in the iPhone 12, but with the option to magnetically attach accessories.

“MagSafe is brilliant in its simplicity,” Greengart said. 

Malony called the advent of MagSafe a “transformational time” for the accessories market, and he expects a wave of different attachments to come from the industry. 

“Things like this change the game,” he said.

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