Why Apple's Power Cords Keep Breaking

Apple's obsession with design perfection is actually what still makes its power cords so poorly designed. 

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Apple's obsession with design perfection is actually what still makes its power cords so poorly designed. Even as the company has put out updated adapters in an attempt to make users happier, the charger hasn't stopped angering users. The newest release, the Magsafe 2, which it put out with the MacBook line refresh this June, for example, does not magnetize properly, as The New York Times's David Pogue explains. "The magnet is too weak. It’s so weak, it keeps falling out. It falls out if you brush it. It falls out if you tip the laptop slightly. It falls out if you look at it funny," he writes. Pogue liked the "L" shaped cord that proceeded this latest innovation and wonders why Apple decided to upgrade to this weak one. But, that one wasn't much more reliable either. After one year of use, my "L" power cord stopped working with what I would call regular use -- a problem others complain about on Apple's forums. And the cords before that were even worse with their fray issues, over which the company lost a class action law suit. Considering Apple has a person whose sole job involves making the unboxing experience as pleasant as possible for consumers, one would think it could put out a decent, user-friendly power adapter.

So, why then, can't Apple get it right? Some have theorized Apple puts out a shoddy product to get users to spend money on replacements which can run up to $80. This might also be part of Apple's obstinace when it comes to beta products, as ZDNet's David Gerwitz explains in reference to the iPhone 4's connectivity issues. "It's a shame, really. The iPhone 4, like most of Apple's new products, is breakthrough engineering. Unfortunately, the company doesn't label these breakthrough products as 'beta,'" he writes. The MagSafe with its magnetic connection is "one of Apple's best ideas ever" in the words of Pogue. But six years since its introduction, it's still a work in progress. Without that "beta" label, however, the consumer expects a finished, perfected product -- especially from Apple.

But, another theory from a former Apple employee matches the ethos of the company. Apple cares more about design than usability and when it comes to adapters that presents a problem, as Reddit user (and proclaimed Apple employee) Sphynxter explains.

Now it just so happens that the Industrial Design department hate 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.

Apple puts the design of its products above all else. The design team reported directly to Jobs, according to an anecdote from Bloomberg Bussinessweek. But, even under that paradigm, the Jobs way was "design is how it works, not how it looks." At Apple function follows form, as Alice Rawsthorn explains in The New York Times. "Take the iPod Shuffle. How could you be expected to guess what that tiny metal box does by looking at it? There are no clues to suggest that it might play music," she writes. "Apple’s designers conceived the latest model as a subtle joke on the demise of 'form follows ...'" That mentality has worked for Apple with products that function once humans get past the form. But, with the adapters the design-first obsession has gone too far. If a product loses its functions altogether because of the form, it's no longer useful at all -- no matter how pretty it is.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.