On the iPad’s charging cable

I bought my wife an iPad for christmas. The battery recharges via a USB lead, and a mains plug is provided with a USB port, so that you can charge directly from mains.

But the cable is ridiculously short — about one meter. It’s basically impossible to use the iPad when it’s plugged in, for fear of ripping the cable out of the iPad or the mains plug.

This is a very good thing.

It changes what kind of thing the iPad is. When I use a laptop, my default mode is to have it plugged in all the time, and just think of it as being able to survive for a while when isolated from its feeding trough. But with an iPad, the narrative is very different. It’s a device that isn’t wired into anything. It moves happily around the house with you, and just happens every now and then to need parking in its Special Place where the charger is.

Although these two usage models are identical in substance, the psychological difference is huge. I have been used to thinking of laptops as delicate super-powered entities that I must care for and love and cherish and worship. Whereas the iPad is just there for you. And since we’ve had it around, I’ve started to shift my attitude towards my laptop, too.

So the short charging cable is a clever piece of cultural engineering.

10 responses to “On the iPad’s charging cable

  1. I can think of another reason. My father uses a third party cable. When he visited, he decided a sensible place to charge his iPad was to leave it on a windowsill, with the cable running down to a trailing 4-way plug socket.

    You can guess the rest.

    (I am surprised they didn’t make Lightning incorporate the MagSafe approach for this reason but possibly it is dependent on the weight of th item).

  2. Perhaps a stronger reason for short cables is reducing resistive losses. For short cables, a manufacturer can use cheaper (smaller gauge and/or non-copper) conductors with higher resistivity while staying within the power supply specification at the other end. That’s why so many phone charging cables are also short, even though sometimes one must move furniture to provide a flat surface close enough to an outlet.

  3. juleslt writes: “He decided a sensible place to charge his iPad was to leave it on a windowsill, with the cable running down to a trailing 4-way plug socket.” This may be stupid of me, but no — I can’t. What happened?

    Michael P’s more prosaic reason for shorter cables (cheaper to manufacture) is an interesting alternative. But I doubt that’s the issue here. Producing a longer cable would cost Apple a few pence, which is down in the noise for a £400 piece of kit. I think it has to be a deliberate decision.

  4. I’ve wondered the same thing Mike, and like you I don’t think it’s to do with price (especially as the magsafe power supply on my MacBookPro has very generous lengths of cable, from the connector to the brick and then from the brick to the wall socket – I can’t see Apple skimping pennies on a cable).

    I think that the length of the iPad and iPhone connectors is deliberate, you really can’t easily use them while they’re being charged.

  5. I think……. Apple’s proprietary 30 pin port sucks, industry standard are the way to go as they offer cheaper more flexible solutions. The only reason Apple choose to go.proprietary is so they can licence the port technology to third party manufacturers as an additional revenue stream.

    Hope your all going to enjoy the new lightning connector that offers you usb2 speed but costs $40 dollars a cable, awesome.

    Gerard Taylor (Mike’s open technology brother)

  6. Oh, I totally agree — there is lots to dislike about Apple’s deeply non-open approach, and the pointlessly non-standard 30-pin port is only the tip of the iceberg. But I think most people would agree that once you put that to one side, in pure design terms they’ve been out in front for most of the last 10-20 years, often way out in front. So it’s good to figure out what design lessons we can learn from them.

  7. Ooo. Ooo. Can I guess the rest?

    Step the first: iPad is bumped, jostled or wafted by a strong breeze, causing it’s center of gravity to shift to the outside of the aforementioned windowsill. (It was not specified that the window was open, but that would make it much easier to place an iPad upon, so I find it a reasonable assumption to the narrative.)

    Step the second: iPad succumbs to the inexorable pull of gravity and is defenestrated, pulling stiffly on it’s charging cable.

    Step the third: The cord is sufficiently secure to yank the 4-way from the wall, possibly causing dangerous sparking and probably causing 1-3 additional devices to suddenly lose power.

    Step the fourth: Continuing it’s descent, the iPad continues to pull on the collected tail of cables, shifting electronics and furniture alike and shattering a small porcelain elephant the belonged to someone’s Great Aunt Sophia.

    Step the fifth: Either the USB connector or (more likely) the proprietary Apple connector finally gives way under the strain, leaving the iPad to continue it’s plummet to the street below, twisting like a silver leaf on the breeze.

    Magsafe could have prevented steps three and four, but disaster was still inevitable once the stage had so cruelly been set.

  8. I thought the short charging cord on iPhones and iPods was to make them easier to pack with one’s gear. I usually use them to charge and sync with a laptop at home or to charge using a small USB adapter when on the road. You can always get a USB extension cable or, even better, a terminal strip with a USB slot or two if its about setting up a charging spot.

  9. Are you completely out of you tree. That only works if it is charged all the time. Its a fecking pain when you need to use it and its low on juice. Get a grip man , its a s**t solution thought up by zip headed idiots

  10. And there, folks, you have the contrary view.

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