We’ve all heard the safety warnings. Keep magnets away from your credit cards! Keep magnets away from your computer! Keep magnets away from your phone! However, do magnets actually pose a risk to electronics, and where did the idea that they do come from in the first place?
The idea stems from old gadgets like televisions, when much of the data was stored magnetically, using tiny bits of iron. However, with all the latest technological advancements, the truth is magnets won’t interfere with your smartphone. In reality, the impact a magnet has on your phone depends on how you use the phone and what you need it to do.
How will magnets affect your smartphone?
Most smartphones contain necessary apps and information for both work and personal lives. Therefore, it’s important to know that there’s no chance of losing an email to a nearby neodymium magnet. Why? Because the way memory is stored on devices has changed. In fact, even many of the powerful magnets available today, will have no opposing effect on your device. There are even several small magnets located within the device to aid it in carrying out specific functions. For instance, Apple’s new watch uses a magnetic inductive wireless charging system.
In the past, hard disk drives inside computers held a series of magnetised particles that could be read as data while the disk spun. Therefore, leaving it easy for a magnet to have an effect and possibly erase data. However, today’s smartphones and majority of computers contain solid-state drives. These drives don’t use magnetism to store data. Instead, they rely entirely on electrical signals to orient transistors—like how the iron particles are oriented on a credit card, but in an updated version.
Also, since modern screens are either LCD or LED-based, there’s no chance of magnets interfering with their functionality either.
How magnets will affect your apps
While your screen or data isn’t threatened by magnets, your phone’s compass is. Magnets can affect the internal magnetic sensors located inside the smartphone and may even slightly magnetise some of the steel inside your phone. This magnetisation could then interfere with the compass on your phone.
Don’t use the compass app? This still could affect your phone. Some GPS apps, such as Google Maps, rely on the compass to determine your location. Other apps, specifically game apps, also rely on compass readings. If your compass becomes corrupt, these apps could become nearly impossible to use.
This is something that Apple has had to consider in case and accessory design. In Apple’s Case Design Guidelines, they have included sections on Sensor Considerations and Magnetic Interference, including the line, “Apple recommends avoiding the use of magnets and metal components in cases.” Therefore, manufacturers must ensure that the built-in magnetic compass cannot be affected by their cases. Additionally, there’s a specific mention of the iPhone 6 Plus, due to the potential problems magnets can cause for the autofocus rear camera with optical image stabilisation.
Although high strength magnets aren’t likely to destroy your smartphone, there is still the possibility that they’ll cause some disruptions to your internal compass, leaving some apps difficult to use.
As a precaution, know that most phones keep their magnetometers toward the top of the phone. So, if you’re attaching a magnetic accessory, it’s usually better to keep it closer to the bottom.
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