I just bought my brother an iPad and noticed there isn’t any visual indication on the charger when it's in an active charging state.

Why wouldn’t a designer provide some visual feedback? Many chargers in industry have a light. Is there some advantage with this no-feedback approach?

This is the charger in question:

enter image description here

  • Im confused. What is your question?
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 13:18
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    everything at apple is designed intentionally. The reason behind any design typically is "Jony Ives wanted it that way". As for your brother's issue, I don't know if that's a universal concern. There's an audio feedback, for starters, that it has begun charging. Maybe an LCD light on the exterior would be nice, but not sure it'd address a widespread issue and at the end of the day, just add cost and take up space--both things Apple tries to rein in.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 15:20
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    I disagree I feel as though there can be reasons why you purposely wouldn't want to put that information on there. It's too in depth to be a comment Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 22:54
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    @BobSinclar I've started a re-open vote...Let's see what happens
    – tohster
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 12:47
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    As for the revised question, it's better. Though I think the answer is "there's no need, as the device should indicate if it's charging or not--not the charger."
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:46

5 Answers 5


Designing a visual indicator here is non-trivial

A charger has at least the following states, and possibly more:

  1. The charger is not plugged in correctly, or there is no power in the wall socket
  2. The charger is plugged in correctly but the device is not charging (e.g. faulty cable, device isn't fully plugged in)
  3. The charger is plugged in correctly and the device is charging
  4. The charger is plugged in correctly and the device has finished charging

It's difficult to communicate states using just one LED:

Does this mean: The phone is charging? The charger is plugged in correctly? The phone has finished charging?

  • A designer could use flashing or pulsating lights or dim/bright lights to communicate multiple states, but that is not very clear to the user.
  • A designer could use symbols (labels are language-specific and the charger needs to be globally understood), but that adds clutter to a small device.
  • A designer could use multiple indicators to show plugged in vs charging vs finished, but wall chargers are supposed to be unintrusive and multiple lights start to create visual distraction on the device.

A decision not to include an indicator on the charger can be the result of thoughtful design which incorporates these considerations. By examining the UX goals here, one might posit:

  • The user's goal is to charge the phone.
  • In order to do that, the user needs to get clear feedback that the charging process has started correctly, and that it has finished. In between these two events, the users needs to be able find out how fully charged the phone is (i.e. progress).
  • Rather than provide a tiny indicator on the charger, which creates problems because users might buy 3rd party chargers, charge from laptop, etc. it's better to use the phone itself as the indicator:
    • The phone has a large display for communicating start, progress, and end correctly
    • It has a speaker for audio feedback
    • It knows the user's language and can provide language-specific labeling
    • Showing the charging indicator on the phone allows Apple/Samsung/etc to ensure a consistent charging user interface even if users utilize 3rd party or non-conventional chargers.

The phone-based indicator is not perfect. If the phone battery is totally dead, there is no indicator at all since there is no power to the screen (that's one of the reasons phones try to switch themselves off with a tiny reserve amount of power rather than run to zero). If there is a problem with the cable, or charger, or wall power, there is no additional indicator to help users debug what might be wrong.

But rather than cater to these less frequent cases, designers correctly have focused on the majority use case, which then allows them to design chargers which are:

  • Unintrusive (no flashing or bright lights)
  • Encourage the user to use the phone rather than the charger as an indicator (consistent user interface)
  • Unambiguous (no labeling required)
  • Clean/minimalist (a design objective for companies like Apple and Samsung).

There are certainly reasons why one should provide visual indications (it provides more information to the user, one should provide feedback on BOTH the charger and the device), but a reasoned compound design tradeoff here has empirically resulted in chargers which favor simplicity and phone-based rather than charger-based design.

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    I agree. However, I've had some frustration trying to tell an ipad charger apart from an iPhone charger. The information is printed in small lettering on the back of the charger. If I try charging my ipad with my iPhone charger by mistake, it would take half a day to charge the ipad, so the consequence carries some weight for me. My guess is that Apple wants to keep things simple. But I would've really appreciated a simple visual cue identifying charger type.
    – Adnan Khan
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 2:37

In my opinion, it depends on the device you are charging.

Because on an iPhone/iPad/iPod touch (and on most devices of that kind) there is feedback whether the screen is turned on or not.

But on most computers, there isn't feedback at all when the computer is in sleep mode, and only a little when the computer is on. In that case, feedback directly on the charger makes more sense.

The new MacBook takes a different approach: even if the computer is in sleep mode, there is a noise and the screen turns on for a second to show you the battery remaining.

  • If the charger uses electricity when it is left plugged in - maybe what it needs is an led which comes on when its charging and NOT charging anything - to remind users to switch it off at the wall.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:43

One may reasonably assume that users are looking to the device being charged to see if charging is happening versus looking to the charger. It's therefore likely, since there is no feedback mechanism in the charger design, that the product designers validated that assumption and found that having such a mechanism would be redundant, not intuitive to the end user, and thus not worth the cost of adding it to the product. (Based on Apple's previous hardware designs, they seem to favor only adding what is absolutely necessary to their hardware.)


I personally, hate it when things have lights on them, especially if they're things that I could potentially be running at night while I'm trying to sleep- chargers, speakers, computers, anything really.

Bright little LED's are never a selling point for me when I am looking at something's design.

Most of these things are able to provide feedback in other ways- phones you can check the screen, speakers make noise, computers can be used. The only purpose the light holds is to be a nuisance.

  • Welcome to UX.stackexchange. I too try to avoid items with LED lights.
    – Mayo
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 20:51

I had an experience recently at an airport that had me asking the same question. I was plugged in but nothing was coming — none of the other folks at my little power pod had noticed that their devices weren't charging. I was sure a light on the charger was the answer.

I think, though that this use case — the use case that the light would be designed for — is a very narrow use case. Specifically, the light is useful when you've plugged in the charger but there's no power. The percentage of times I plug something in and there's no power to the outlet is minuscule (though admittedly frustrating when it happens). If we lived in a time of inconsistent power in our spaces then I think this would happen a lot more and you'd get a lot more utility out of a light.

In fact, this gives me a great idea for a (admittedly pretty niche) product: a slim USB LED w/ passthrough. Plug in to your USB charger and it'll light up when the charger has power. I'd suggest 2 LEDs — one lights when the charger has power, a second lights when the charger is drawing (additional) power.

Thumbs up would back on Kickstarter :)

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