The latest chapter in Apple stupidity: the charger shell game

As Daring Fireball recently reported, Apple has done it again with their gratuitous incompatibility. In a nutshell, Apple has released a 20W charger that looks like a previous 18W charger, and a 30W charger that looks like a previous 29W charger. You would think that one or two watts would not make a difference. Well, this being Apple we are talking about, it turns out there’s a lot more to it than that.

From the article:

If you don’t know a little about how AC adapters work, it might seem crazy that the difference between an 18W charger and 20W charger could be significant. If you think it’s all about wattage, they sound so similar — how could 2 watts make a difference? And Apple’s own 20W charger (that they started selling this year, and which is included with the HomePod Mini) looks identical to Apple’s previous 18W charger (which was included with some iPads and the iPhones 11 Pro). The only way to tell Apple’s new 20W charger apart from their old 18W charger is to look at the hard-to-read small print (light gray text on a white background, a veritable crime against accessibility). And even when you read the small print, you have to know that Apple’s 20W chargers say “20W” on them and their 18W chargers aren’t labeled with a wattage. Seriously, Apple’s 18W charger doesn’t say “18W” — the only way to know it’s an 18W charger is to examine the even-harder-to-read smallest-of-small print and know that it’s stated maximum output of “9V × 2A” is 18W. (Their 20W charger is 9V × 2.2A, so it’s really a 19.8W charger.)

So the chargers look alike, and you have to literally read the fine print to be able to tell them apart, and know a little bit about Apple’s product releases and maybe Ohm’s Law on top of that. Yeah, good move, Apple. But wait, there’s more; our intrepid hero John Gruber got bit by another case of look-alike chargers, this time involving the Magic Keyboard:

Turns out Apple’s 29W USB-C adapter is weird and limited. It only outputs two configurations: 14.5V × 2A = 29W (the maximum), or 5.2V × 2.4A = 12.48W.1 The iPad Magic Keyboard accepts for high-power input 9V × 3A = 27W, but Apple’s 29W adapter can’t supply that. Apple’s 30W USB-C adapter, on the other hand, supplies a slew of output options:

  • 20V × 1.5A = 30W
  • 15V × 2A = 30W
  • 9V × 3A = 27W (bingo for the Magic Keyboard)
  • 5V × 3A = 15W

It’s actually more than the wattage in play here, it’s the exact voltage levels that the charger can supply. John doesn’t say it but I’m guessing this is either undocumented or at the very least requires some detective work to figure out.

And people still wonder why I don’t buy Apple products. I mean, if you go into the archives, there’s more to it than that, but it’s another reason to add to a growing list.