Apple’s worst product has now become one of its best

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Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time talking about charging cables. A theme that cropped up with alarming regularity was the poor quality of Apple’s charging cables.

Anyone who’s been buying iPhones or Macs over the past decade will know the pain of charging cables that would wear out over a matter of months. iPhone cables were the worst, with the sheathing on the end of the cable wearing through to the wires beneath.

I remember a time when no Apple charging cable — iPhone, iPad, or MacBook — would last the lifespan of the product, and there was a never-ending search for something better from a third-party manufacturer.

I remember how my heart sank when Apple switched to Lightning, and later the switch to the faster-charge Lightning-to-USB-C cable, and knowing that it would be some time before third parties would come out with more cables that would last more than a year.

It was incredibly frustrating, especially with premium products like those sold by Apple, to be worried about something as simple as a cable.

Also: The best Apple deals on Amazon right now

And it was a really bad look to have a cable repaired with grotty electrical tape, liquid electrical tape, or (and this was the best-looking, “nicest” repair) Sugru moldable glue.

Oh, and those early Apple iPhone Lightning cables (100% genuine cables, not clones or copies or counterfeit cables) would suffer from corrosion on the connectors and stop working.

But over the past few years, I’ve noticed that Apple charging cables have radically improved.

And I know this because I’ve been testing them.

For example, here are two Lightning cables, one that came with the iPhone 14 Pro Max earlier this month, and one that came with an iPhone 11 Pro Max back in September of 2019.

Can you spot the difference?

The 3-year-old cable is on the left, new cable on the right

The 3-year-old cable is on the left, new cable on the right

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The older cable is a bit duller than the newer cable, but after heavy use (several times a week), as well as travel and in-car use (where the cable spent a lot of its time in direct sunlight and high temperatures), it could still pass for new.

Given how long-term use of cable in a car puts a heavy toll on cables, I’ve since moved to wireless charging, and find this much more convenient than wired charging when I’m charging in a car.

Also: How to upgrade your iPhone in-car charging experience

The connectors, and more importantly, the cable close to the connectors (the bit that gets a lot of handling and normally wears out quickest), are like new.

And Apple’s cables are getting better.

The braided cables that we’re now seeing on the newer MacBooks and the Apple Watch Ultra magnetic fast charger are exceptionally good. 

The nylon braid sheathing gives the cables a high level of abrasion resistance and tangle-proofing.

The Apple Watch Ultra's charger is built to be rugged, just like the watch itself

The Apple Watch Ultra’s charger is built to be rugged, just like the watch itself

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Yes, the braid does get a bit dirty in use, but I suppose if that bothers you, you could give it a wipe.

These Apple cables are now among the best cables that I have ever used.

Apple's braided cables are its best cables ever

Apple’s braided cables are its best cables ever.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Problem is, one cable is rarely enough; you’re going to need a few more. And while Apple’s cables are good, they’re expensive. You’re looking at $19 for a 1-meter Lightning-to-USB-C and $29 for a 2-meter cable

If you’re willing to pay for the Apple experience, then go for it. But the Amazon Basics Lightning-to-USB-C or Anker Powerline+ II are excellent alternatives that will give years of service.

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