The Real Reason Apple Won't Fix Its Crappy Charging Cables
Like many people, I consider Apple’s annual product announcement a high holiday. We all gather ‘round to let the Jobsian gospel wash over us, listening intently for details about whatever shiny new phone or laptop or tablet or watch we’ll inevitably blow our paychecks on. But as much as Apple excels at changing and improving upon its wildly popular products year after year, there’s one thing it can’t seem to fix: those damn fraying power cords.
Since 2008, I’ve owned four different iPhones (3G, 4s, 5, and now the 6s). But I’ve owned at least twice as many charging cables, because those stupid standard-issue white USB cords fray in a matter of months. And that’s not to mention the multiple MacBook MagSafe cables I’ve mutilated. And I know I'm not alone here.
So what gives? How is it even possible that Apple hasn’t fixed this problem by now?
To understand anything about how Apple innovates and builds its products, you must first understand how Steve Jobs looked at the world. As nasty and brusque as he was known to be with colleagues and underlings, he was at his core a Zen Buddhist, who valued simplicity not only in his personal life, but in technology. For him, the key to successful industrial design was making something look sleek, simple, and unintimidating. In fact, he adhered so strictly to that design-first directive, that he would approve the look and size of a device first, and only then task Apple’s hardware engineers with finding a way to make it run.
This, when you think about it, is crazy -- like opting for a tiny sports car when you’re expecting twins. But you don’t get to be Steve Jobs or Apple by being safe or conventional, and hell, Apple’s built itself into a trillion-dollar global company, so who’s to say he was wrong?
But setting up a hierarchy with designers at the top does pose some unique issues. For one, Apple won’t follow a trend unless it can brand its own unique version of it. Look at the recently released Apple Smart Battery Case, or the rumored forthcoming wireless earbuds. By no stretch are either of those things groundbreaking in terms of technology -- companies like mophie have been making these battery cases for years -- but this represents an opportunity for Apple to once again assert itself as the simpler, sleeker option.
When looks trump function, though, you end up with designers opting for a particular aesthetic, even when it goes against the engineers’ advice -- or massive complaints from users. Simply put: an elegant design is more important to Apple than one that prolongs the life expectancy of a product.
So that, very likely, is why the chargers fray and fall apart -- and will continue to do so. It's not just because they want us to keep sinking money into replacement cords. One former Apple employee claims on Reddit that the Industrial Design team just hates the look of popular “strained relief”-style cords, which exist specifically to prevent cords from bending at harsh angles, and they insist on sticking with the more elegant-looking white brick with USB cord.
The other obnoxious thing at play here is that all the frustrated customers like myself are left pretty much optionless -- Apple cautions against using non-Apple chargers for laptops and iPhones because they can be detrimental to the machine and fry your battery.
So until Jony Ive and the rest of the Apple design team fall out of love with their darling charger designs, we may all just have to suck it up and be a little more careful.
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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. He has zero objections to strained relief-style cords.