Apple has long been on a quest to make its laptops almost impossibly thin, but that darn keyboard keys always take up too much space. The company introduced the butterfly switch several years ago to make its MacBook keyboards thinner while still maintaining some degree of tactility. However, MacBook owners quickly realized a tiny spec of dust could render any key useless. Apple may have just rolled out a potential fix, but it didn’t even bother telling anyone.
When Apple announced the new MacBook Pro, it said the butterfly switch keyboard had been redesigned to be quieter. That’s nice because it was weirdly loud, but we were more interested in a keyboard that wouldn’t break. According to a leaked service manual, the “quieter” butterfly switches may actually be dust-repelling first and foremost.
The butterfly mechanism has two symmetrical arms that connect to the keycap. So, the switch fees stable, but there’s little movement. The arms fold down as you press, and the key hits the contact at the bottom of the mechanism. Because there’s so little travel, it’s possible for something small like a speck of dust to get lodged in the mechanism and prevent it from triggering the switch. In typical Apple fashion, the only way to correct this defect is to replace the entire keyboard along with the upper case of the computer. This would be a ridiculously expensive repair out of warranty.
When iFixit took the new MacBook Pro apart, it noted there were now small silicone membranes around each butterfly mechanism. Apple would have you believe this was about making the keyboard quieter, but now we know the membranes had a different objective.
According to an Apple service manual obtained by MacRumors, that membrane is there to keep the butterfly mechanism clean and free of dust. “The keyboard has a membrane under the keycaps to prevent debris from entering the butterfly mechanism,” the document reads. It’s sort of a silicone skirt that goes around the perimeter of the mechanism. If dust can’t get under those arms, it can’t prevent the switch from depressing.
Apple recently had to admit to the ongoing issues with defective 2016 and 2017 MacBook keyboards. It offered an extended 4-year warranty to address the issue, but the new 2018 MacBook is not included, presumably because Apple thinks its keyboard won’t break so easily. Unfortunately, getting your older butterfly MacBook repaired won’t get you the new model keyboard. The 2018 keyboard is exclusive to the new MacBook.
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