Uncharacteristically, Apple has commented on the ongoing issues with its controversial butterfly keyboard mechanism utilized on Mac notebooks, having even issued an apology to customers who continue to experience problems with the latest third-generation design.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern today looked into the MacBook keyboard situation, analyzing whether and how it’s improved over the years, as well as focusing on the lingering issues people continue to have with the latest third-generation iteration.
Long story short, the third-generation butterfly was supposed to fix all the previous defects. Joanna’s article includes an apology via a statement attributed to an Apple spokesperson.
We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry. The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.
The butterfly keyboard has been polarizing since launch four years ago. The vast majority of keyboards use a spring-loaded downforce system or a so-called scissors mechanism.
Apple’s made a switch from the standard scissor mechanism to its own butterfly thingy with the 2015 introduction of the one-port twelve-inch MacBook. The butterfly key has a slimmer profile with shorter travel, resulting in smoother motion and better responsiveness, but some customers soon began complaining about the lack of key travel and tactile feedback.
In the meantime, the butterfly was brought next to the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016. The second-generation butterfly mechanism, refined for greater comfort and responsiveness, was used in the updated twelve-inch MacBooks and the 2017 MacBook Pros.
That iteration was supposed to prevent specks of dust and debris from entering the mechanism but instead accentuated the issue. The latest third-generation keyboard has contained the problem by wrapping each key with a thin layer of silicone.
Apple says this makes the keyboard quieter to type on, but the true purpose of the membrane is preventing debris from entering the key mechanism in the hope of solving issues like stuck keys, auto-repeating keys and so forth. The third-generation butterfly provides four times more key stability than the traditional scissor mechanism, Apple claims.
Due to the MacBook’s design, a stuck key cannot be replaced without changing the entire top assembly containing the keyboard along with the battery. The current third-generation butterfly is found in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models from 2018 while the Touch Bar-less MacBook Pro models have the second-generation butterfly mechanism.
Apple first officially acknowledged that some people are having issues typing on these keyboards in the summer of 2018 by quietly launching a keyboard service program so affected customers could have their stuck keys fixed at no charge rather than pay $300 or more.
The updated MacBook Pros that arrived in October of that year are not part of the replacement program because those notebooks are still covered by their first-year warranty.
The jury is still out as to whether the silicone membrane under each key does a good enough job solving this stupid problem for Apple customers. If recent testing conducted by iFixit is an anything to go by, the membrane itself does not completely fix the dust problem.
A proposed class-action suit alleges Apple’s been aware of the keyboard’s defective nature since 2015 yet sold affected laptops without disclosing the problem.
If you paid to have the keyboard repaired, contact Apple about a refund.
Are you having issues with these butterfly keyboards? And while we’re at it, should the company says goodbye to the butterfly once and for all, do you think?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.