Apple may ditch the problematic butterfly mechanism keyboards sooner than expected

Supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo recently predicted that the first Apple notebook to ditch the butterfly keyboard will be a refreshed MacBook Air. However, the company recently updated the MacBook Air lineup without changing the keyboard mechanism. In a revised prediction, he’s now saying that the phasing-out process will begin with the rumored new Mac notebook model sporting a 16-inch display that should release later this year.

According to Kuo’s revised timeline put forth in a note to clients, obtained by MacRumors, the next MacBook Air coming in 2019 will ditch the flaky keyboard. Furthermore, the MacBook Pro models releasing in 2020 will also ditch the problematic butterfly keyboard mechanism.

We have revised our prediction that the keyboard of the 16-inch MacBook Pro that will launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 will feature the scissor mechanism instead of the butterfly mechanism. The refresh versions of other MacBook models in 2020 will change to adopt the scissor mechanism keyboard, too. We estimate that shipments of MacBook models that choose scissor mechanism keyboards will reach 400,000, ten million and sixteen million units, respectively.

The analyst previously predicted that the iPhone maker won’t use the more durable scissor mechanism in the MacBook Pro lineup until 2020. In other words, while the return to scissor switch keyboards will start this fall with the rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple’s MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro lines will rely on butterfly keyboards through 2019.

Here’s Kuo’s revised timeline for new Macs with the scissor keyboard.

The keyboard reliability issues stem from Apple’s obsession with thinness — the butterfly mechanism was engineered to be very thin, perhaps too thin because a speck of dust stuck in the mechanism can easily render a key inoperable or cause it to function unreliably.

Apple’s made some changes to the butterfly mechanism in an attempt to alleviate the issues.

For instance, recent Mac notebooks with third-generation butterfly keyboards use a tweaked material for the springy metal domes in the switches, along with a silicone membrane to reduce dust ingress, as illustrated on the image below. However, those engineering efforts did little to alleviate typing issues that some users of these notebooks have been facing all along.

As we reported, all of Apple’s notebooks released since the one-port twelve-inch MacBook, including the recently-updated MacBook Air, are eligible for the company’s keyboard service program. This proves that affected customers have been right all along by calling the butterfly mechanism a step-back from the tried-and-tested scissor mechanism keyboards.

Having refreshed the MacBook Air line, Apple also discontinued the previous-generation models and the 12-inch MacBook, a machine that swapped all the regular ports for a single USB-C port. As a result, there’s no longer a MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup with a physical Escape key.

I wish Apple reconsidered that policy and re-introduced the MacBook Pro models without Touch Bar. Giving people the option to configure their Mac notebook order with or without Touch Bar would also be fair.