MacBook Pro: The butterfly keyboard effect


Like Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch, I haven’t had any problems with butterfly-switch keyboards on the half-dozen or so MacBooks and MacBooks Pro I’ve tested or used over the last couple of years, including the two I use daily for writing and video editing.

zero issues and I’ve had 6 of them between demo models and personals and work

— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) April 25, 2018

But neither Panzer nor my opinions or experiences negate the opinions or experiences of people like Casey Johnston, writing for The Outline:

A few months ago, I wrote about how my one-year-old MacBook Pro’s keyboard keys stopped working if a single piece of dust slipped under there, and more importantly, that neither Apple nor its Geniuses would acknowledge that this was actually a problem. Today, Best Buy announced it is having a significant sale on these computers, marking them hundreds of dollars off. Interesting. Still, I’d suggest you do not buy them.

Or those of Casey Neistat or others who have had problems.

what am i supposed to do when the space bar stops working. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING WITH THIS F⚠️CKING KEYBOARD

— Casey Neistat (@CaseyNeistat) April 7, 2018

I’ve said repeatedly that I love the new MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboard and, though I still have an older MacBook Pro, I now dislike typing on it. It feels loosey-goosey. The current MacBook Pro is the best MacBook I’ve ever used, keyboard included. But, I’ve also said repeatedly, the new butterfly-switch keyboards remain so divisive that, for a single-vendor product, that in-and-of-itself is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Opinions and preferences are one thing, though. Failure rates are another.

I know that we Apple-watchers sit around wondering if Apple will release new laptops with new keyboards that don’t have these issues, but Apple’s relative silence on this issue for existing customers is deafening. If these problems are remotely as common as they seem to be, this is an altogether defective product that should be recalled.

This keyboard has to be one of the biggest design screwups in Apple history. Everyone who buys a MacBook depends upon the keyboard and this keyboard is undependable.

Apple is acutely aware of the complaints surrounding the butterfly-switch MacBooks and MacBook Pros. When prominent members of the community amplify the issue, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Not at any level. But Apple is also the only one with any real, hard data — exactly how many units have been sold and exactly how many of those have reported keyboard failures.

For what it’s worth, Apple reports cost of warranty claims (and accruals for future claims). Nothing too out of the ordinary with those line items. Probably enough sales volume with MacBook Pro for any widespread problem to be noticeable in the two line items.

— Neil Cybart (@neilcybart) April 25, 2018

It’s possible keyboard replacements aren’t being covered under warranty but, given how recent most of the product line is, especially the MacBook Pro, it stands to reason there would be at least some visibility there.

Apple has already announced a battery replacement program for MacBooks Pro (non-Touch Bar) manufactured between October 2016 and October 2017, and the company has announced replacement programs and warranty/repair extensions in the past for a range of components, including graphics, displays, and storage. So, clearly, the company is not averse to addressing issues when it believes they’re significant.

It’s in Apple’s own best interests to do this. Not only is Apple itself a huge user of its products, from the executive team to engineers to supporting staff, but it knows it’s more economical to keep customers happy than to try and convert new customers. A bad product hurts. (It’s why Apple reversed course on the buttonless iPod nano and, finally, the 2013 Mac Pro.) A bad reaction to a bad product kills. (It’s why Steve Jobs ultimately told us we could have our free iPhone 4 bumper cases.)

What’s frustrating to many is that it often takes a painfully long time for Apple to say anything about anything — the company has a measure-10-times-cut-once philosophy — and, if the company has nothing to say, the company says nothing. And, unless and until the company says anything, it’s impossible to know which of those states we’re in.

Except, of course, the negative sentiment around the butterfly-switch keyboards may eventually force Apple into action either way.

For now, my buying advice is as follows:

  1. If you can wait on getting a new MacBook or MacBook Pro, always wait as long as you can because you’ll always get new and/or updated models over time. (That’s been my standard buying advice for a decade.)

Again, I haven’t had this issue with the current MacBook or MacBook Pro, so factor that in when you weigh my opinion alongside those who have. But, two years ago, the ‘e’ key on my 2014 MacBook Pro stopped working. Apple replaced the top case assembly to fix it. It took 48 hours. It cost me nothing.

That’s one of the reasons I remain a MacBook Pro customer to this day.

MacBook Pro

VECTOR | Rene Ritchie