Apple has been on a multi-year quest to make its laptops as slim as possible, and keyboards take up a lot of space. That’s why Apple replaced the conventional scissor switches with the custom butterfly mechanism. It’s thinner, but it may actually be too thin. Not long after the redesigned keyboard launched in 2016, owners noticed that dust and debris that snuck under the keys could easily jam the mechanism.
Butterfly keys are so susceptible to dust infiltration because they have low travel — the key doesn’t move much when pressed. Since this is a laptop keyboard, the key has to get all the way to the bottom to press the contact. With a bit of dust in the way, it can’t get down that far.
Apple didn’t acknowledge the issue at first, but it eventually had to admit fault and extended the warranty on affected MacBooks. It also set to work developing a countermeasure which has just rolled out in the 2018 MacBook Pro. According to a leaked service manual we saw last week, the silicone membrane surrounding the new butterfly switches is there to prevent dust from interfering with the mechanism.
Now, iFixit has given us a good look at this membrane and even tested it under extremely crumbly conditions by scattering two different materials on the keyboard. They started with a powdery paint additive that makes it easier to see how particulates spread through the keys (see above). With normal use, the fine particles mostly stay outside the membrane. Although, heavier typing can eventually bounce them into the mechanism. iFixit also confirmed that a larger particulate (sand) can still make its way into the butterfly mechanism with enough time and typing.
So, it would probably be safe to say the revamped keyboard is better at keeping dust out, but it’s not perfect. As long as Apple’s keyboards have such low-travel switches, a few specks of dust could still spell doom. This isn’t something you can fix yourself, either. iFixit gave the new MacBook Pro a 1 out of 10 for repairability.
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