Many phone cases come with magnetic clasps to hold them closed, and, while this is an attractive feature, it sometimes makes people wonder if these magnets will harm their phones. After all, most of us have heard from time to time that we shouldn’t expose our devices to magnets for one reason or another. But is it true? Do magnetic phone cases affect cell phones? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
Are magnets harmful to electronics?
Walter White famously used an electromagnet in Season 5 of Breaking Bad to ruin a laptop in police evidence. But is that true in real life? Will magnets hurt your electronics or your cell phone? And how can that be true, considering that most electronic devices have some magnets inside them?
The truth is, magnets used to be harmful to home electronics like CRT monitors, televisions, and VCRs, but modern devices don’t use the cathode ray tubes that were susceptible to magnets. And magnets aren’t actually harmful to laptops or videotapes, but they can be harmful to the data stored on them. Old computers used to store data on magnetized media like floppy discs and tapes, and exposure to a magnet could corrupt that data, but not actually harm the device.
However, even the strongest magnets are not, in fact, a reliable way of deleting or erasing data stored on an electronic device. Several companies have experimented with strong magnets as a way to safely delete hard drives, but without reliable, infallible success, so Walter White’s method isn’t fool proof. Today, hard drives are physically destroyed as a way to ensure that stored data is permanently lost and unrecoverable.
What do magnets do to a phone?
So, back in the day, magnets potentially affected old memory storage devices that used magnetic media. Today’s data storage devices for smartphones, like flash drives and SSDs, aren’t affected by magnets at all.
In theory, a magnetic case won’t harm your phone. So why do Apple’s official Case Design Guidelines recommend “avoiding the use of magnets” in phone cases?
Will a magnetic case harm your phone?
While a magnetic case won’t harm your phone itself or any of the data it stores, there are certain functions and features in most phones that use magnets in order to function properly. Magnets in a phone case can potentially interfere with that functionality.
For example, in the iPhone 6 Plus, the autofocus rear camera optical image stabilization could potentially be affected by a nearby magnetic field. That’s a very specific feature in a very specific phone that could potentially be affected by a magnet in a phone case.
However, many phones use digital compasses in their mapping and location features, and those can be affected by strong magnets. You may not be too concerned if your phone’s compass isn’t calibrated correctly and doesn’t indicate true north, but these capabilities are also often linked to games and mapping apps that are meant to detect which way the phone is facing. Exposure to magnets can temporarily disrupt these compass signals. Even worse, long-term exposure to magnets may have the effect of slightly magnetizing metal components within the phone itself, permanently affecting the compass calibration.
The most significant potential effect is when people use magnetic case mounts to attach the phone to their car for hands-free driving directions. In this instance, the calibration of the compass, and therefore the accuracy of the orientation of the phone, is pretty important to correct functioning. Despite the fact that magnets have been shown to affect compasses in phones, these kinds of magnetic mounts do not affect the driving direction function, and here are the two reasons why:
- Navigation systems use GPS, and not compasses. GPS systems use satellites to determine the position and orientation of the vehicle, and do not use compass readings. Even if the magnet were to affect your phone’s compass, it wouldn’t negatively affect your navigation software.
- Proven safe and tested designs. Magnet-closed cases, magnet-linked chargers, and other magnets typically designed to be used near an electronic device, are weak magnets, specifically designed and tested to not affect the functioning of phones and other electronics. Magnetic cases and accessories are proven to not affect or damage phones before they ever leave the factory.
So if you are thinking about getting a phone case that snaps closed with a magnet, or mounts to a surface with a magnet, there’s only one thing left to worry about.
Do magnetic phone cases affect credit cards?
As we mentioned above, exposure to magnets can potentially corrupt or ruin data that is stored magnetically. The magnetized stripe your credit card has is just such a magnetized form of data storage. But modern cards are usually actually powered by an EMV chip, and the magnetized strip is just for backup.
Can you store these cards near a magnetic phone case? The answer is yes, new EMV cards are extensively tested and designed to withstand a normal amount of exposure to magnets. Even the magnetic stripe on these cards is protected from de-magnetization. So you can store these cards near a magnetized cell phone case without concern.
While there was reason to keep magnets away from your electronics and devices a few decades ago, modern devices use technologies and storage media that is less susceptible to magnets, and phones, phone cases, and even credit cards are extensively tested to be able to withstand low levels of magnetic fields, even with constant exposure.
There’s no reason to be concerned that a magnetic phone case or phone accessory on the market today will have a negative effect on your phone, and no reason to think that you couldn’t store a phone case like that near your wallet and credit cards. So go ahead and get a case that snaps shut with a magnet, or a case with space for your credit and debit cards, and worry about more important things.