Saturday, June 23, 2018

Apple Launches Keyboard Repair Program for MacBook and MacBook Pro

Juli Clover (tweet, Hacker News):

Apple today launched a keyboard repair program for MacBook and MacBook Pro models equipped with butterfly keys to address complaints over letters or characters that repeat unexpectedly, letters or characters that do not appear, and keys that feel “sticky” or do not respond in a consistent manner.

According to Apple, a “small percentage” of MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards from 2015 to 2017 can experience these symptoms.


Customers who experienced keyboard problems but were forced to pay out-of-warranty repair fees for their damaged MacBook or MacBook Pro models can contact Apple to inquire about a refund.

This is all good news except that I was hoping the coverage would extend for more than 4 years after the original sale. I’m hearing mixed reports about whether the replacement keyboards last much longer. If the problem isn’t fully fixed, a lot of customers could still end up needing to pay for a replacement in year 5 or beyond. (My own 2012 MacBook Pro is 6 years old and still going strong.) So I still wouldn’t want to buy a new MacBook Pro now, even though it’s time for one.

We also don’t know Apple’s plans for future keyboards. Hopefully, they are working on a new design that is more reliable because a repair program is not a full solution. Even if the repairs are free, it’s incredibly disruptive to have to wipe your Mac (possibly your only Mac), bring it to Apple, be without it for a week or more, and then restore it (hoping your backup was good). Many people have already gone through multiple replacements.

The “small percentage” language is interesting, compared with the “a very small number” that Apple used in discussing the iPhone battery issues, and because on Twitter, at least, it seems like the percentage is not small.

See also: Rene Ritchie, John Gruber (tweet), Jordan Kahn (tweet).

Previously: Unreliable MacBook Pro Keyboards.

Update (2018-06-23): Steve Troughton-Smith:

The keyboard repair situation is a tough one, because it doesn’t fix the issue — just pushes the problem down the road, out of your warranty window. Working input is so important; I wouldn’t even consider recommending a current MB/P to anybody w/o a new & proven-fixed kb design

Max Shelley:

Totally agree. After the first one failed, there was just an assumption in my brain that at some point soon I was going to hit a key and it wouldn't work, which is incredibly distracting.

Mark Munz:

Will Apple ALERT MBP customers directly, or do you benefit ONLY if you learn about it in proper time frame?

Last year, my iMac failed because of design flaw, but it was out of warranty/service window. Had Apple told me about flaw, I could have brought it in during window.

Casey Johnston (via Cabel Sasser):

The admission comes after the company has been hit with no fewer than three class action lawsuits concerning the computers and their ultra-thin butterfly-switch keyboards.


Having become a one-woman clearinghouse for people complaining about these keyboards since I broke this story, I feel justified in saying that keyboard failures – dead keys, sticking keys, double-spacing spacebars – appear to happen early and often, and repairs do not permanently fix the issue. I also feel justified in saying that the design on offer as recently as February still presented the exact same issues as the design I purchased in the fall of 2016.


Until Apple confirms that the design of its computers is somehow different, and even maybe then, given its overall poor judgment in this matter, my personal recommendation would still be: don’t buy them.

Marco Arment:

I’m glad they’re doing the right thing and fixing faulty keyboards for free — finally.

But I wish it were longer — why 4 years? why not 5 or 8? what’s the expected life of a MacBook Pro? — and there still isn’t a new model on the market with a reliable keyboard except the 2015.

I also take “a small percentage” with a grain of salt. 1% is a small percentage. So is 30%. That doesn’t really mean anything concrete.

Keep in mind, also, that the percentage brought in for Genius repair is less than the percentage having problems — often significantly less.

Update (2018-06-24): dustin curtis:

After denying it for more than two years—and screwing countless customers—Apple has finally admitted that the MacBook scissor keyboard is faulty.

This is not how you put customers first.

Update (2018-06-25): Michael Lopp:

MACBOOK PRO: NACHOS? Wait, WHOA WHOA. You didn’t say we’d be eating food. I’ve got work tomorrow, and a single bit of chip, a smear of cheese, or a bit of jalapeño and I’m screwed.

APPLE EXTENDED II: Right, ok. Hold on the nachos. Back to you faux-keyboard. Do you know what you’re great at? TouchID. It’s a wonder because it simplifies a standard action. It transforms the process of typing a long secure password into a single click. That is legit magic, but TouchID is a button, and a button is always in the same location, it has a discernible shape you can feel with your finger, and when you press it, you feel the action of being pressed. You are a touch screen.

Joe Rossignol:

Many questions have arisen since the program was announced, so we wanted to consolidate some additional information that we have gathered from Apple and other sources we have spoken with[…]

Update (2018-06-28): Kyle Wiens (Hacker News):

The first-gen butterfly keyboard showed up in 2015, but the real root of the problem dates back to 2012 in the very first Retina MacBook Pro. That radical redesign replaced their rugged, modular workhorse with a slimmed-down frame and first-of-its-kind retina display.

And a battery glued to the keyboard.


We put a keycap under a microscope and injected a grain of sand so you can see how this happens. The grain is in the bottom right corner, and it’s completely blocking the key press action. It’s very challenging to remove it with compressed air.


Why did it take so long, and so many complaints, for the repair program to be put in place? Why do you need to send your MacBook Pro away for upwards of a week for a repair? That’s easy: because Apple made their product hard for them to repair, too. Apple’s new warranty program is going to cost them a lot of money.

Update (2018-07-02): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2020-04-22): Mark Rogowsky:

I bring my 2018 MacBook Air in for a keyboard repair (repeating o and space bar mostly) ... routine right? Covered my Apple repair program also I have AppleCare


The technician replacing my keyboard or “top case” in Apple logic has destroyed my logic board inadvertently. No chance of repair. No chance of data recovery.


After a wait to get him, I explain situation and say, “go ahead and repair my machine but I want the part”... he goes away for 10 minutes and says, “can’t be done”.

He wants the damaged MacBook to try to recover data from it.

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