Where are the third-party MagSafe accessories?

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When Apple announced the first MacBook Pro models back in January 2006, one of the most-touted new features was actually a relatively minor one from a hardware standpoint: the MagSafe power connector. This innovation, which has expanded beyond the MacBook Pro to the MacBook line, as well, uses a nifty magnetic design to connect the power adapter to the laptop. As we explained it back then, “The MagSafe power connector safely disconnects from the notebook when there is strain on the power cord, helping to prevent the notebook from falling off its work surface if the power cord is inadvertently yanked.”

As someone who’s seen his laptops take more than a few falls over the years when someone tripped over a power cord, I love the MagSafe connector. (Well, except for when it occasionally comes lose and I don’t notice, but that’s what Unplugged is for.) It’s one of those “Why didn’t anyone do this before?” features.

But the popularity—and critical praise—of the MagSafe connector raises an obvious question, one that popped into my head yet again while packing for a recent trip: Where are the third-party MagSafe accessories?

In the past, I’ve written about Kensington’s Thin & Light power adapters and iGo’s juice70 —products that, via interchangeable tips, let you use a single power adapter with several devices, and even multiple devices simultaneously. Just as important, these products work with multiple power sources: AC wall outlets, car accessory jacks (otherwise known as the “cigarette lighter” jack), and airline-seat (EmPower) DC power ports. In other words, you can bring along a single power adapter for all your gadgets and nearly any power source, making such a product a must-have for road warriors. Other power options include Lind’s power packs, lithium-ion-battery “plates” that offer up to 8 hours of power, as well as AC adapters from companies such as BTI, Madsonline, and MCE that are much smaller and lighter than Apple’s offering.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the MagSafe connector, these products were no longer compatible with the latest Apple laptops. I had assumed this would change as vendors updated their products to work with the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but here we are, nearly a year and a half later, and the only vendor making power products for these Apple laptops is, well, Apple. The release of an Apple-branded MagSafe Airline Adapter last fall was welcome news, but that $59 accessory doesn’t work with automobile power jacks and adds yet another piece of gear to your laptop bag. (Two or more, actually—you need to carry Apple’s AC and Airline adapters as well as adapters for your other gear.)

Why the dearth of third-party MagSafe products? Because the MagSafe connector is a patented technology and, according to a Kensington representative, Apple has thus far not licensed the use of that technology to other vendors. Specifically, Apple has provided accessory makers with the following statement: “Apple, at the present moment, does not have any plans on licensing the MagSafe notebook connector to any third-party power adapter manufacturers.” Apple provided a similar statement to Macworld in the past, though noting that the company was looking into the market; we asked for a confirmation that this is still the official policy, but Apple hadn’t responded at the time of publication. We’ll happily update this post once we hear back from the company.

Interestingly, iGo recently recently added to its Web site a product page for “notebook tip S32” for the MacBook and MacBook Pro; the page notes that the tip is currently being developed. I asked iGo whether or not the company was developing this tip independently, but I haven’t yet received a response.

Now, I understand that Apple put the resources into developing the MagSafe connector, and I have no problem with the company wanting to both regulate that technology and recoup those investments. But if the comments I’ve heard from both colleagues and readers are representative, there’s a considerable demand for more power options, and Apple doesn’t seem interested in providing them. (Understandably, perhaps; Apple’s never been a big accessory vendor.) Here’s hoping that the company recognizes this demand and lets reputable third-party vendors do what they do best: fill the gaps in Apple’s own accessory options. Apple might even make a pretty penny off the licensing fees—after all, with the company selling more notebooks than desktops these days, the market for power accessories is only going to get bigger.

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