Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sierra Bluetooth Problems and the Logitech K811 Keyboard

Ever since updating to macOS 10.12.2, my MacBook Pro has had horrible problems with Bluetooth. Multiple times per day, the keyboard disconnects. Sometimes it reconnects automatically a few seconds later. Sometimes it reconnects only after I power cycle it or toggle Bluetooth. Sometimes to get it to reconnect I have to reset the Mac’s Bluetooth module by holding down the Option and Shift keys (on the internal keyboard, natch) to access the Debug submenu of the Bluetooth menu bar icon. And sometimes all that fails and I have to reboot the Mac.

At first I thought this was due to a hardware problem with my original aluminum Apple keyboard. I had been able to extend its life by making better connections to the batteries, but power problems with this model seem to be common, and eventually something inside of it breaks.

Liking the keyboard’s feel, but tired of dealing with the AA batteries, I replaced it with a Magic Keyboard (Amazon). I ended up liking the Magic Keyboard slightly less, as it’s flatter, it’s harder to feel the edges of the keys, and the left-right arrow keys are harder to find because they aren’t half-size.

More importantly, the Magic Keyboard also would disconnect all the time. Sometimes it would reconnect and think that a key was stuck down. I’d see the same letter repeat for several lines, or see several lines of text delete one character at a time. Still suspecting a hardware problem, I reported these problems to Apple Care. After ruling out Wi-Fi as a cause and also reproducing the problem on a second Mac, I got them to send me a replacement Magic Keyboard. It exhibited the exact same problems. Curiously, the Magic Keyboard also did not work reliably when directly connected via Lightning. I had thought that when used with a cable it would act like a regular USB keyboard, but apparently the cable only provides charging and Bluetooth pairing assistance.

Thinking/hoping that the problem was with Apple’s keyboards, I then bought a Logitech K811 (Amazon), which I’d heard good things about. Indeed, it’s a great keyboard. It’s like an improved version of the Apple aluminum keyboard that I liked so much. It can pair with three different devices at once and quickly switch between them. It’s still low-profile, but the keys have slightly more travel than Apple’s, they’re slightly clickier, and there are larger spaces between them, so it’s easier to feel their edges. It has the T-shaped arrow key layout, and you also get an extra function key: F13. One downside is that some of the hardware functions (like brightness) are assigned to different F numbers than on the internal keyboard, and I have had a hard time getting used to this.

There are also a bunch of software issues compared with the Apple keyboard. The OS doesn’t know the keyboard’s battery level. You need to install a kernel extension to make the media keys behave as standard function keys. Both the menu bar and flashing bezel indicators for Caps Lock get out of sync with the actual state of the key. It keeps forgetting the level I’ve set for the keyboard backlight. LaunchBar and Dictation can’t detect taps of the fn key.

And the Enter key doesn’t work. You’re supposed to be able to type Enter by pressing fn-Return, but (unlike with Apple’s keyboard) this just generates a Return. Logitech support first blamed this on a defective keyboard and sent me a replacement that had the same problem (as did another, older, Logitech keyboard that I tried). They then blamed a recent OS update, but I reproduced the problem on 10.10. It’s possible to use Karabiner Elements to program another key to act as Enter, but that didn’t seem worth the extra software to me. Instead, I opted to use the alternate keyboard shortcuts—unfortunately not consistent—in the apps where I used Enter: Control-Return to execute a BBEdit shell worksheet command, Command-Return to send a tweet in Tweetbot, Command-Return to submit an event edit in Fantastical, and Command-K to compile an AppleScript in Script Debugger.

The main problem, though, is that the K811 is subject to the same disconnection issues as Apple’s keyboard, although it seems to be slightly better at auto-reconnecting and does not repeat keys. I’m now convinced that the Bluetooth keyboard problems, which others have also noticed, are due to an OS bug. And it’s not limited to keyboards: when I tested a Microsoft Bluetooth mouse, it also kept disconnecting. Fortunately, my wireless mouse does not rely on Bluetooth.

The keyboard disconnections have gotten so frequent that I pulled my Apple aluminum USB keyboard out of storage. It works reliably, but I miss the narrower layout of the newer keyboards (which keep my mouse more centered), I keep forgetting that the corner key is Control rather than fn, and I miss the dual-purpose function keys that fn enables.

Update (2017-03-08): Addison Webb:

I’m having the exact same issues with my Late 2015 iMac. It’s super annoying and I also solved the problem with my Apple USB keyboard.

Jordan Merrick:

I have two Logitech BT keyboards, K780 and K380. Both completely unusable with Sierra, yet worked flawlessly with El Cap.

I was able to get the Magic Keyboard to work in wired mode by connecting it via Lightning and then unpairing it in the Bluetooth pane in System Preferences. I expect this to be more reliable, though it keeps auto re-pairing even before I reboot. I don’t want to turn Bluetooth off entirely because I use it for my AirPods and Universal Clipboard.

Nick Heer:

Sierra also introduced a couple of serious bugs with the way keyboards and trackpads are interpreted. I occasionally notice keypresses getting “stuck”, and my cursor sometimes lags when it is moved. Both of these bugs have been destructive for me: I have, more than once, deleted the wrong file, and have selected the wrong action in several applications.

Paul Ward:

Same problem with an MX Master & K780. My MBP lives on a swing arm, & the problem is reduced when I move it away from the desk.

Update (2017-03-17): Dan Frakes recommends FunctionFlip, which uses the accessibility APIs to invert the behavior of the function keys so that a kernel extension is not needed.

Update (2017-10-02): Marco Arment is also seeing Bluetooth disconnections with Sierra.

19 Comments RSS · Twitter

I had the same issues with headphones. As soon as I connected my magic keyboard as well, the keyboard and my Bose BT headphones would start disconnecting. Un-pairing one got the other working reliably again. Headphones also made copy and paste continuity features from iPad pro to Mac very unreliable. Had to remove them to get it working well again.

I still haven't had any problems with my Magic Keyboard (touch wood) but my MX Master goes missing at least once a day. And I was silly enough to buy Bluetooth headphones a few weeks back. They too regularly disconnect.

My current workaround for the MX Master is to bring up the Bluetooth System Preferences panel, wait 5-10 seconds whilst cursing under my breath, and then the MX Master springs back to life. I don't think I've had this method fail me yet.

I've got no reliable workaround for the headphones though. Sometimes opening the Bluetooth System Preferences panel does the trick, somethings re-pairing is required, sometimes a restart. It's driving me up the wall.


Roger Scrafford

I have never experienced disconnects, dropouts or key input sticking with my Logitech K811 -- not on this older iMac or my recent MacBook Air. Both are running Sierra.

But I *have* seen that low battery power in an Apple bluetooth keyboard can yield erratic keystroke behavior on a friend's iPad.

Based on my own experience, my first suggestion is to disconnect all USB 3 devices from your Mac and any other nearby computers and see if the problem persists.

I've used Apple's wired keyboards for over a decade so I haven't seen the same issues with my keyboards, but I *have* seen bluetooth issues with both versions of Apple's Magic Mouse and three different 27-inch iMacs (Late 2009, Late 2012, Late 2015). My mouse would often stop working without warning while I was using it, even though the Mac didn't think that the mouse had disconnected. Toggling bluetooth off and on would be the only fix (created a hotkey shortcut to do just that). The issues first started in late 2012 and it took me months to figure out the issue. I purchased several replacement mice with no improvement until I realized that the issues happened most often after I docked my new iPhone 5 at my desk. Since there was no Lightning dock at the time I was using the 30-pin dock from the original iPad with a 30-pin to Lightning adapter attached via packing tape. While it worked fine as a dock it apparently caused Bluetooth interference. I later learned that this is an expected issue with USB 3 devices, although my particular issue involved USB 2, 30-pin, and Lightning. One I ditched the makeshift dock the situation improved considerably, but not completely. I would still occasionally experience issues.

Here's Apple's official word:

@Dan What you say makes sense, but I haven’t changed my devices or desk layout in years, yet the problem only started last fall.

I've been having the same problem on Sierra with my Bluetooth keyboards: the Magic Keyboard, Apple's older one, and my Logitech k810 (which I really like). This is on an late 2013 13" MBP. I don't remember when it started, but it definitely happens on Sierra. Finally after reading this I did the same as Michael and plugged in an old aluminum USB keyboard. I'd forgotten how much I like the feel of the keys, but I agree it would be nicer without the numeric keypad.

I too have tried using the Magic Keyboard in wired, non-Bluetooth mode and found it too inconvenient.

Bill Smargiassi

Exactly the same experience on the 15" 2015 MBP from my employer. The keyboard drops and stuck keys are driving me nuts. I test with the Caps Lock key, and when the light won't come on I know it's in trouble. AirPods usually take about 3-4 attempts to connect. I didn't use Bluetooth input with it until early this year so I'm not sure how it behaved in ElCap. My personal 2011 13" MBP has no such issues.

I definitely agree this smells like an OS bug.

@Bill I actually linked to that above. :-)

[…] Previously: Sierra Bluetooth Problems and the Logitech K811 Keyboard. […]

[…] Spontaneous disconnection of Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. […]

[…] levels of advisors were caring and motivated to help, but the problems were left unresolved due to software bugs out of their control. With a few, the advisors seemed to want to help but didn’t have […]

Hey Michael, I just replied to your StackOverflow post about the K811's return key and what might be causing it:

Weirdly, that is the ONLY problem I am having with the K811 or have had on Sierra or previous Mac OS versions. I'm not sure why I don't have the other issues you seem to be afflicted with but I'd be happy to do some comparison and diagnostics on this side to see what might be different in hopes of figuring out a solution.

@Jay Are you saying that double-tapping the fn key on the K811 works for you to enable dictation?

@Michael Yes, it does.

BTW, you might want to email me with followups since I may forget to check back here.

[…] Bluetooth problems forced me to give up my aluminum wireless Apple keyboard and also plagued the Magic Keyboard and Logitech K811 that I tried as replacements. For the last several months, I’ve been using a Logitech K750. I chose this because it’s wireless but uses its own USB transceiver rather than Bluetooth, thus bypassing the problems introduced in Sierra. Unfortunately, I’ve started encountering problems with the K750. It now reports that its solar cells are not getting enough light to keep it charged. I don’t understand how this is possible since my office as four bright light bulbs, two displays, and a window. Is December in New England that much darker? In any event, there’s no way to charge the K750 directly, and the solar charging now only works when it’s away from my desk. The other problem is that it keeps forgetting that I’ve set the function keys to operate in standard mode, i.e. pressing F1 doesn’t require fn. Perhaps this is because the battery level is low. […]

[…] Bluetooth disconnection problem that started with Sierra still […]

[…] backlighting, but I have renewed interest in wired keyboards since macOS 10.13 continues to have Bluetooth disconnection problems and does not always recognize wireless keyboards at boot. Apple no longer makes a wired keyboard. […]

[…] Previously: macOS 10.13 High Sierra Released, My 2017 iMac, Sierra Bluetooth Problems and the Logitech K811 Keyboard. […]

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