Apple worked for years to make its laptops slimmer and lighter, and keyboards get in the way of that. In 2016, Apple debuted a new kind of “butterfly” keyboard switch that makes the typing surface thinner than ever, but owners have reported frequent problems with the keys becoming unresponsive. Apple Insider is looking to put some data to these anecdotal reports, and it says the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard fails at twice the rate of older models.
According to Apple, the butterfly mechanism (seen above) distributes pressure more evenly than a traditional “scissor” mechanism. This allows the key to move up and down quickly and with greater tactile feedback. The real goal for Apple was to make the switches thinner, and it succeeded. Thus, Butterfly switches have much less travel than the scissor switches on other laptops.
If you spend any time lurking around Apple forums or subreddits, you’ll hear plenty of stories about defective MacBook Pro keyboards. The problem is those super-flat switches can cease to work upon encountering a tiny spec of dust. If the dust gets under the keycap, it keeps the switch from depressing all the way. Sometimes, even prying the key off and clearing the dust won’t fix the switch. Some owners also suspect the switches can go bad at random without dust infiltration.
Apple Insider has collected data from an unspecified number of Apple Genius Bars and third-party repair shops for 2014, 2015, and 2016 model MacBook Pros in their first year of availability. It also has limited data on the 2017 redesign. In 2014 and 2015 models, the rate of keyboard failure for serviced laptops was 5.6 percent and 6 percent, respectively. In 2016, the rate shot up to 11.8 percent. The 2017 MacBook Pro release included a slightly tweaked version of the butterfly switch, and the limited data Apple Insider has at this time suggests the failure rate has come down a little to 8.1 percent.
These calculations are based on 2,000 or fewer data points, so it’s far from all the MacBooks serviced in that time. Apple doesn’t provide any official data, so this is the best we’ve got. It does at least suggest that it’s not just hysteria — there’s something wrong with Apple’s keyboards.
Apple recommends using compressed air to blow out dust, but most owners of defective keyboards end up going to an Apple store to have the keyboard replaced. It’s not only the keyboard, though. Because of Apple’s design decisions, you need to have the entire top frame swapped out, which includes the keyboard, battery, metal frame, and ports. The repair after the warranty expires can be upward of $700. This seems like something Apple might want to address.
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