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. 🙃


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.

[…] Unreliable MacBook Pro Keyboards, The Impossible Dream of USB-C, New MacBook Pros and the State of the […]

[…] is discouraging, especially after the problems with the MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards. I wonder whether this will be addressed in the dark […]

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