Wednesday, October 18, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Unreliable MacBook Pro Keyboards

Casey Johnston (Hacker News):

“If a single piece of dust lays the whole computer out, don’t you think that’s kind of a problem?”

In every other computer I’ve owned before I bought the latest MacBook Pro last fall, fixing this would have begun by removing the key and peering around in its well to see if it was simply dirty. Not this keyboard. In fact, all of Apple’s keyboards are now composed of a single, irreparable piece of technology. There is no fixing it; there is only replacing half the computer.


The primary motivator behind the rise of the butterfly switch seems to be that Apple keeps trying to make all its products thinner, to a degree beyond reason at this point (MacBook Pros now weigh as little as three pounds).


If Apple decides to replace the keyboard, it sends out the computer to replace the entire top case; there is no such thing as replacing an individual key or just the keyboard. On a Macbook Pro, the top case retails for $700, but the computers haven’t been around long enough for anyone to be out of warranty yet. In regular MacBooks, which were first available in the spring of 2015, Apple has quoted as much $330 to replace a top case out of warranty. The path from “a piece of dust” to “$700 repair” is terrifyingly short.

Make sure you buy AppleCare!

Stephen Hackett:

I, like the good kbase follower that I am, consulted and followed Apple’s directions for dealing with this[…]

After a couple days of light usage, the problem got worse. […] The bottom lip of the key began to flip up a little bit as the key tried sprinting back up after being depressed. […] One of the tiny arms that the key cap clips onto is broken. My nearly $2,000 laptop that I bought less than a year ago is now missing a key[…]

Nick Heer:

By the way, I know there will be some people suggesting that plenty of generations of Apple products have had their teething issues. I don’t deny that; the MacBook Pro was recalled for graphics issues, the first-generation iPod Nano scratched like crazy and the battery could overheat, and the unibody plastic MacBook’s bottom case peeled off.

But input devices should always — and I mean always — work, in hardware and in software. If a speck of dust affects the functionality of the most-used key because of an attribute inherent to the design of the keyboard, that’s a poor choice of keyboard design, especially for a portable computer.

Jason Snell:

We can feel free to disagree about whether Apple’s new laptop keyboard design with drastically reduced key travel is pleasant to type on or not—I don’t like the feel of the keyboard at all, but I recognize that reasonable people will differ.

But like them or not, these keyboards seem to be easily broken. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have reported some problem with the keyboard that has required a visit to the Apple Store.

Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

My 2016 MacBook Pro Escape keys like to get sticky when I’m hammering away at the keyboard in the sun, probably due to the key caps expanding from the heat.

John Gruber (Hacker News):

I find these keyboards — specifically, the tales of woe about keys getting stuck or ceasing to work properly — a deeply worrisome sign about Apple’s priorities today.

Marco Arment:

Maybe after today’s articles, Apple will finally be forced to admit to themselves that the butterfly MBP keyboard is fundamentally flawed.

That keyboard has no place in pro laptops, and Apple needs to deeply reconsider the process that led to it being brought to the whole line.

The compressed-air thing is like blowing on an NES cartridge: it doesn’t really fix it. Ask any Genius how many they’ve fixed that way.

Wait until the first 2016 MBPs fall out of warranty in a few weeks and people need to pay hundreds of dollars to repair one broken key.

Anecdotally, it seems to affect about 50% of the people I know with butterfly-key MBPs. When I ask on Twitter, I get similar numbers.

The really scary part is that most of these computers are only a few months to a year old. How will they age?

Riccardo Mori:

I’ve been saying that MacBooks have shitty keyboard since 2015. An acquaintance who got a 12” MacBook had to replace the keyboard 3 times.

John Gruber:

Omit the word “pro”. All Apple laptops should (and for 15 years did) have excellent-feeling reliable keyboards.

Dan Masters:

This happens to me all the time.

It’s funny – I actually prefer the firmer feel of the butterfly keys, but this issue is madness.

Chris Johnson:

“Our” crowd is finding out about this issue now, but MacBook forums have known about these butterfly keyboard issues since mid-2015

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The iPad Pro Smart Keyboard has the same key switches as the new MacBook Pros, with none of the dust issues—fabric MacBook Pro, anyone? 😂

Colin Cornaby:

The key travel is so short the force of bottoming out travels up through my fingers and owwww...

2017’s have a dampener that helps.

Nick Heer (Hacker News):

Dan Luu tested a bunch of popular keyboard models and recorded their latency. Something that might surprise you: Apple’s Magic Keyboard, when connected over USB, had the fastest response time — albeit imperceptibly so in actual usage.

That goes to show that Apple can build great keyboards.

Previously: New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac.

Update (2017-10-18): Mike Zornek:

I’ve been typing with a broken b key for a month. Will take it in for repair soon. It will be the second time in in less than a year.


I guess I’m not the only with an MBP keyboard that gets sticky when the machine is hot.

Zac Hall (via Bad Uncle Leo, tweet):

Jonathan Mann of ‘Song a Day’ fame has a new hit on his hands. “I Am Pressing The Spacebar and Nothing Is Happening” is his latest jingle, and it’s a brilliant tune about keys on the MacBook keyboard having a tendency to get stuck when exposed to debris or crumbs or, well, in some cases, air.

Gil Roth:

The left shift-key on my 2017 MB needed fixing w/in 3 months.

Update (2017-10-19): See also: Reddit.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Speaking of keyboards, had to avail of [the repair program] — so much for Smart Keyboard’s wiring durability 😂 Didn’t age well, @iFixit

Update (2017-10-20): Juli Clover:

“Will we see an October keynote event?” Luke asked. “I think we’re all Keynoted out for the season! :-)” Federighi replied.

So new and improved MacBook Pros are apparently not forthcoming soon.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

So, couple days later, here’s how MBP keyboard poll shook out—of over 2,500 responders, 450 people (22.5%) answered ‘yes’ to fix/replacement

A lot of folks are suggesting that the 2017 keyboards have fixed the issue, which is definitely not true from my responses. Helped? Possible

Riccardo Mori:

In early 2016, a friend of mine told me that she had to bring her 6-month old 12-inch MacBook to an Apple Store because the ‘V’ key had stopped registering, and the spacebar was stuck. I wrote her that this was troubling, but that somehow I wasn’t surprised. Later, when she asked me for advice (“Do you think I should try selling the MacBook after they fix the keyboard? I’m bummed, but I also love it for its lightness…”), I urged her to buy AppleCare if she wanted to keep it, because I feared the problem could return in the future.

It’s October 2017. She still has that Early 2015 MacBook. She had the keyboard replaced three times. She’s grateful to have followed my advice about getting AppleCare.


Long story short, of these twelve friends and acquaintances that got in touch with me regarding this particular matter, seven had serious keyboard issues, and the remaining five told me that their MacBook/MacBook Pro keyboard feels different now than when they purchased their Macs: some mentions uneven feedback when typing, others say that certain keys — despite still working and being registered after pressed — have kind of lost what little clickiness they had at the beginning.

Update (2017-10-21): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast, The Talk Show.

Update (2017-12-15): Mike Bolich-Ziegler:

@caseyjohnston you should know I was in an Apple store this week & two Apple specialists were baffled on why their iPhone activation system passwords wouldn’t work while using a MBP. Both of their passwords contained an “n.”

The “n” key was broken on a display MBP. 🙃

Update (2018-01-19): Pieter Levels:

I bought a new MacBook Pro 15" on October 27, 2017 and it took 83 days for the N-key to break. So now I can’t type (P.S. Twitter you told me this was going to happen but I didn’t listen, yo soy muoy stupido)

Update (2018-02-22): Marco Arment:

I’ll “let it go” when they stop selling MacBook Pros with extremely unreliable keyboards.

Every other design decision (or flaw) can be argued or eventually tolerated. That one can’t.

No matter what you think of it, a keyboard has to work reliably, period.

“We get it now” is not a reason to stop publicly holding a company accountable for a massive flaw that betrays significant negligence in the process.

(They knew these keyboards were unreliable and controversial in 2015, then brought them to the entire lineup in 2016.)

The MBP owners on their third keyboard, or the ones waiting weeks for backordered repair parts, or the ones paying for expensive repairs after their warranties have expired aren’t saying “We get it now, stop talking about it.”


I’ll let it go when I don’t have to beg them to fix it for free even though it’s clearly a known issue

Ekin Koc:

I have an unreliable 15”. Apple took 3 weeks to fix it. (They even tried to charge $600 for it, took me days to have them honor the warranty)

Bought a 13” meanwhile because I had no computer. It had a funky ctrl key right out of the box. Returned.

I lost a lot of days to this.

Chris Mallinson:

This issue is a daily thing for me. I dropped $4k on my 5th MacBook Pro, and have taken it in for new keyboards or repairs 4 times and they still do not acknowledge this to be a widespread issue.

Update (2018-03-09): Daniel Jalkut:

I’m using my old 2014 MBP while I consider my options for 2016 MBP’s defective keyboard. Oh my god, typing on this thing is such a joy…

Update (2018-03-12): Daniel Jalkut:

Probably the least common modern MacBook Pro complaint, but mine is that the command key surface is degrading after only 7 months.

(I neglected to mention: I do MOST of my work on this computer with an external keyboard. :-/ )

Peter Bihr:

Macbook pro, a bit over a year in: 3rd time a key stops working. The build quality of @apple laptops has dropped so badly.


A refurb 2016 that I got after getting my 2013 replaced due to top case shortages has this issue: double "d" every other keypress.. pretty sad. All in all, I prefer this keyboard to the older model tho.

As always, thanks for gathering all the voices in one place!

A quick bug report: Browsing the tag Mac is not working for me on your blog (the others do).

"Apple’s Magic Keyboard, when connected over USB, had the fastest response time"

Who cares about the response time of the keyboard when the problem is keys just not working?

Considering the keyboard is apparently considered to be a piece of crap from a quality point of view (I've tried one in a store, didn't like it but can't judge the quality over time), the touch bar is considered to be a piece of crap from a design/usability point of view (especially the lack of the Esc key), do we have at least good feedback regarding the trackpad as an input device?

@someone From what I’ve heard, the trackpad is too big and therefore gets a lot of accidental inputs.

"From what I’ve heard, the trackpad is too big and therefore gets a lot of accidental inputs."

We are kidding? Otherwise, that is straight pitiful. Seriously, these devices aren't inexpensive. Apple was always compared to the BMW of computers, but maybe their goal all along was to be the Jaguar/Rover of computers -- looks nice, but pricey and unreliable.

I never liked the butterfly keyboards either. But I've only used them in stores. Not for extended periods of time.

@Lee Thanks for the report. I think I’ve fixed that. (There were so many posts with that tag that PHP was timing out, and my phprc that increases max_execution_time was no longer in effect because PHP had been updated to a newer version.)

I have the 2017MBP. I’ve had it one month and one day today. So far the keyboard hasn’t acted up in a hardware sort of way. I didn’t like this keyboard to begin with because of the clicking noise.but I needed a newe, rfaster Mac and I didn’t want to wait until they were only available with High Sierra. However the keyboard is Much less useful because of the Gigantic Trackpad. There is no place to rest your hand or fingers. Palm rejection works some of the time, but anything other accidental touch will click, select, or deselect something.

I don’t understand the need for the giant-size trackpad. I am thinking back though, about a year and a half ago in an Apple Store, I was talking with one of the greeters. He said Angela A. is tall, taller than he was and he was about 6’2” and that she she had very big hands (he had shaken her hand), so maybe. that is why we have the giant size trackpad.

I will probably sync the Logitech keyboard and get a new version of the Kensington turbomouse/ball which was my favorite thing on my first Mac. The drawback there is that Kensington has made the Mac version with an RF which will take up a usb port.

For internet, I will probably go back to using the Macbook Air.

Oh, and the touch bar is pretty much useless. I thought it might be handy for Logic and FCP. It might be if the fn key was a toggle switch and not a hold to switch.

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One key on my 2017 MacBook Pro started getting less responsive one day. Within an hour it was taking 4 or 5 seconds of pressure holding the key down to get it to register. I was on a deadline for work.....and kept typing for the rest of the night. It was a struggle. The offending key was the letter "p" and after a couple of hours 5 or 10 or 20 seconds of holding it down was no longer working. I got by by copying a 'p' to my clipboard and pasting it when needed. I remapped my keyboard to have a bracket key instead type an upper case 'P'.

I actually bought it at Best Buy as when I originally went to the Apple store to buy this computer I 'checked in' then waited over an hour as was still not to the front of the queue to be waited on.....more like a snooty restaurant experience than a retailer....and not in a good way! I want to Best Buy and made the purchase in under 5 minutes and saved $300. I brought the MBP to the Apple Store Genius Bar to have them repair the broken key. That turned into them needing to send it out as the repair was beyond them. 5 days later I get an email saying the repair was $680 as the key would only fail thru use of excessive force. Huh? Went thru the whole story again and Apple stood by their line that the key would not fail under normal use. I disagreed and escalated my complaint up first thru chat then email then phone with Apple. It took over a week of calls along with sending the rep page after page of online of complaints posted to Apple's own discussion boards of key failure before they agreed to make an 'exception' and fix the key under warranty. But to fix the machine they had to return it to the local Apple store where the whole claim started. Days later the store called to say they needed to order a 'top case' for my computer and that may take 5 to 7 days. I was not happy as in the absence of my $2800 three month old computer I was stuck using a 2012 model I had sitting in my closet. It had now been weeks of waiting for what seemed a simple issue. Days later I get another call from the store saying they discovered 'evidence of fluid' in the computer and saying that voided any warrantee on the machine even if it had nothing to do with the key failure. Just over 1 month into this I don't have my computer back. Apple is not returning my calls or emails. I need the machine so tonite I am ordering a used top case then going to the Apple Store to retrieve my computer and replacing the top case myself. I have installed drives and ports and fans in other Macs that were out of warranty. This is actually my first warranty claim ever on the 20+ Macs I have owned. But what I found is: Apple's laptops are not once they once were. Faster and sleeker but keys breaking all over and then seemingly trying to quash it is NOT the Apple I knew since buying my first Mac in 1989. Arrogant. Poor customer service from buying experience to genius bar and beyond.

I also just ordered my first Dell. With 16 GB RAM and 500 GB flash drive and a touch screen (something Apple has never had) for $1500 I will put up with the threat of viruses while saving over $1000. I need 4 more machines. They won't be Macs.

[…] speak louder than words. Cook’s Apple is known for shipping incomplete products late. Was the disastrous MacBook keyboard really ready nearly three years ago? What about the first-generation Apple […]

I have a 2017 MBP 13". I really like the keyboard, but after 5 months the B key started acting funny. Worked, then didn't, then repeated. Took it to Genius Bar, they spent 10 minutes with it and decided to replace the whole keyboard, top, touchpad, the works. No argument. I didn't have to talk them into aything. As frustrating as it is, I have to wonder if they are working on this behind the scenes and just instructing techs to replace the keyboard whenever there's any issue. Who knows? I'm told the new keyboard, etc will all be new, not refurbished. Maybe I'm getting a better keyboard, or maybe I'll have problems again. Time will tell. I also don't believe in this 'dust' business at all. I blow my keyboard out twice a week. Never eat over it. I don't think dust is the culprit here.

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