Friday, November 1, 2019

Tylenol Moment for Apple’s Laptop Keyboards

Kev van Zonneveld (Hacker News):

Both in terms of productivity and delight I had my best years on Apple and I didn’t think I’d ever look back. But here we are.

Why? I (guess I’m the only person alive that) didn’t mind the TouchBar or lack of a real escape key (can map Caps Lock to that). And I liked having 4 USB-C+ ports that I could do anything with. But yes, The Keyboard.

I spent the most money I ever did on this MacBook Pro, and it’s also the worst machine I ever had because the keyboard breaks down (like, it won’t register the s).


So far I’ve brought it in for repairs three times, and each time I’m without my workhorse for a week. Those are unplanned holidays that are dragging my productivity–and basically my company down.

I personally also feel macOS has taken a freefall regarding robustness and polish, but that might be just me. It’s the keyboard that ultimately made me feel just really concerned about having my productivity/company/future so tightly coupled to what Apple ships next.

Joe Rossignol:

While it is unclear if the widely rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro will launch in 2019 or 2020, the latest report from DigiTimes claims that Apple will begin receiving volume shipments of the notebook in the fourth quarter of this year.


Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo originally said the 16-inch MacBook Pro would launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 with an all-new design, including a scissor switch keyboard. As of late, however, Kuo has more vaguely stated that a “new MacBook model” with a scissor keyboard will launch in mid 2020. It’s unclear if the “new MacBook model” that Kuo has referred to more recently is the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Mid-2020 would be more than five years after the initial 12-inch MacBook shipped with the bad keyboard, and it may take longer to turn over all the laptop product lines.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

My great hope for the keyboard debacle is that Apple pulls a Johnson & Johnson 1982 move and recalls every single laptop they’ve sold since 2015, and gives buyers a new scissor-keyboard equipped model instead. How many billions might that cost? A quarters’ worth of buybacks?


I know it’s institutionally almost impossible for Apple to accept that they not only fucked up the MacBook’s keyboard, but that they failed to fix their fuckup for 4 years running, with several attempts. They’re proud people, Apple. But I’d be prouder still of them if they did.


Apple’s consumer confidence amongst people who’ve been stricken by the keyboard debacle is hurting. Maybe it’s not showing up in their net-promoter scores yet, but it’s there. Oh it’s there. I-FUCKING-BOUGHT-A-WINDOWS-LAPTOP it’s there.

Alec Joy:

I bought the first butterfly switch MacBook Pro when it came out in 2016. After three years, and 4 keyboard repairs (thankfully all free) I bought a Thinkpad last month and sold my MacBook and ipad.

Patrick McKenzie:

I felt like I was really missing something for years after I started using Macs in 2014. My next personal computer is unlikely to be a Mac, solely because I want a built-in keyboard that works. Happy to eat N months of retraining muscle memory to get it.


Yup. I was an Apple Fanboi until the current generation of MBPs (2015+). Then they demonstrated just how utterly tone-deaf they are to the things that matter to actual professionals.

Colin Cornaby:

Both my home and work Touch Bar MacBook Pro creak very loudly as they heat and cool. I have heard Apple is fixing this with top case replacements.

I use two MacBook Pros and both have serious hardware issues in addition to the keyboard.

Dave Nanian:

Even thought I’m a macOS developer, when I’m on vacation and don’t need to do development, I travel with a Windows laptop, because my Mac laptops are kind of awful.

Awful to the point where I’ve considered installing macOS in a VM on said laptop.


Update (2019-11-02): David Heinemeier Hansson:

The favorite go-to explanation for why Apple screwed up their laptop keyboards seems to be: They went too thin!! This fails to account for the fact that the Surface Laptop is thinner than a MacBook Air and has a great keyboard. ThinkPad X1 is super thin, great keyboard.

Addison Webb:

If I didn’t use Xcode for a living, I would be heavily considering a non-Apple laptop to replace my 2016 MacBook Pro.

Dave Hidding:

Truth. With all due respect & as a really long-time Mac owner (going back to a FatMac) @tim_cook, this is worth the five minute read. Surprise us with a J&J response...


Current MacBook Pro status:

- external keyboard on top because internal keyboard broken
- frozen shrimp as ice pack to stop overheating while browsing the web

Update (2019-11-05): Giles P. Croft:

Yes. Must confess, this was one of the factors that led me to sell my MacBook Pro: typos in every other sentence on that damned keyboard 🙄

It’s crazy that one company can concurrently make both the best/most satisfying keyboard I’ve ever used (Magic Keyboard) and the worst (every Mac laptop currently on sale).

15 Comments RSS · Twitter

Count me in as someone who bought a thinkpad tablet when I had to send in my 2016 MBP for a keyboard replacement. Having a real OS on a tablet has been such an eye-opening experience that I’m unlikely to ever buy another MacBook unless Apple makes a Surface-like model or the iPad OS grows up and allows for real pro graphics apps.

Yup, my main portable is a Dell Latitude I got refurbished from a nonprofit. Quad-core Skylake, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, functional keyboard, 1080p IPS matte screen, ethernet, USB-A, HDMI, SD card reader, fingerprint reader, smart card reader, SIM card tray, hooks into a $15 dock. Whole thing cost under $500. And it had the remainder of a warranty where a Dell tech came to my place of work to repair a hardware problem.

Like Photoshop for iPad?

You mean "Photoshop" for iPad? The thing that was just recently revealed to NOT actually be Desktop-grade Photoshop after all?

More to the point, and I've said it before, but count me in as one of the people who would like to upgrade my 2014 MBP but I simply can't because of what seems like a near 100% chance that any newer MBP would have a keyboard failure. I'm also still pissed that newer MBP come with no ports for things that I still use, like regular USB (every day) and SD Card (at least once a week). There's really no reason for it, since similar spec and size PC laptops come with USB-C, USB-A, and SD Card slots (and some also have Ethernet and other ones). Apple has always made some questionable choices like this, but to me they've taken it too far. Battery life is good enough since a few years ago, there's no point to keep shaving off 1mm at the expense of having a terrible keyboard and a bag full of dongles / hubs. That's what the Macbook Air is for, not the MBP. I think my next Mac might just be a Mini with a good keyboard and monitor, because I rarely use my MBP away from my desk anyway.

I'm simply done buying Apple hardware until this is fixed; my MBA is on a shelf, I won't replace it. I've got a nice (if aging) iMac 5K with a wired "magic" keyboard that just works; and a RasPi4 with a teeny but robust chiclet keyboard for video playing, and once I battery-power it, as a portable cyberdeck if I need to travel.

But given Catalina EOLs so much software I use, I won't be "upgrading" to that either. So when Mojave is EOL, I'll probably leave the Mac entirely. FreeBSD is nice enough, and I can write or compile anything I need myself.

I don't know how Apple keeps getting these "99% customer satisfaction" numbers year after year, because nobody I know is satisfied with anything in the last half-decade.

I waited as long as I could to replace my amazing 11” Air (2013) and hoped for the Mac Book plus proper keyboard and more ports.

Six months ago I bought a Surface Pro 6 and I love it and look back fondly on the Apple years (up to 2015).

I went with a Lenovo P42s in June as my work 2015 Macbook Pro came off of lease. I love the hardware, particularly the keyboard. I’m writing this on my personal Macbook Pro, 2017 model, that I hate with the power of 1000 suns. The keyboard is crap and has been replaced one time already. Now the video card looks to be going so I’m preparing to take it into the shop again. With the increasingly crap quality of MacOS and it’s becoming iOS-like I question what my next stop will be.

All of that said, the thing I miss most with the Lenovo is the great software available for Mac. That’s been the biggest hit to my productivity in this switch; finding suitable replacements where they exist.

As for thinness and weight, I’m carrying an iPhone that is as heavy as a brick so really a bit more weight in my laptop wouldn’t bother me. Tim Cook’s Apple, cheap parts, poor design, no servicability.

@BenG … dongles are big money if you consider that they add around $100 to the cost of a MacBook Pro and most certainly cost less than a tenth of that to make. The same thing with the now absent wall cable that costs $25 extra to buy. Add in memory and SSD markup because those are no longer user changeable and you quickly see how Apple is turning the numbers they’re turning.

@mdhughes "99% customer satisfaction" is pure marketing spin. In other words it's true but also untrue depending on your viewpoint.

Sören Nils Kuklau

I don't think it's spin; I think they genuinely believe those metrics. Which doesn't necessarily mean they're good metrics or that the methodology is sound.

(And they're selective about providing them. What, say, is the customer satisfaction of the 2013 Mac Pro?)

I own a 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro with 1 terabyte flash drive, 32 Ram , and a Radeon Pro 560X. No heat issues even with 100+ plus degrees when outside in the hot Dallas summers.Almost a year now working everyday mostly outdoor on my patio smoking a cigar everyday. Cigar ashes everywhere on the keyboard and some dust I wipe off regularly. No keyboard problems. I run Microsoft Office, Keynote, Pages, and a multitude of 3rd party apps now with Catalina 10.15.1. I boot from an external OWC high speed 1 terabyte flash drive with Catalina. No issues whatsoever. I love the keyboard and the stable hardware and OS. Owned a 2015 Macbook Pro before then with no keyboard issue. I believe that many have issues with the keyboard, but I guess I'm lucky so far.

@Grigg Ted
I completely believe your experience. I had multiple MacBooks over the years and none of them were effected by cracking lower cases during my ownership. Although, at least one cracked after it moved to a family member. Going back further in time, neither of my two iBook G4 models exhibited the blank screen problem.

However, I am well aware both experiences leave me in the minority as both were widespread problems.

If your Macs keeping breaking or otherwise not living up to expectations, we only have ourselves to blame if we keep single sourcing hardware.

Honestly, it might be better to stick with a Mac mini for Mac development and another brand of laptop for all other work. If configured correctly, you can remote into the Mac mini while on the go to keep working in Mac only tools like XCode. Yes, that plan kind of sucks, but it is better than throwing away $2000 every couple years.

The other option is a Mac mini and a non Apple laptop hacked to run OS X. Hacking non Macs to become Macs always seems easier with at least one bona fide Mac in possession.

It's worth noting that until 1995, Apple OWNED the laptop market. It took a single generation of truly terrible computers--the PowerBook 5300--which were slow, had disintegrating plastic, bad system software, and froze constantly--to completely cede that market to Dell.

History CAN repeat itself. Apple needs to focus on reliability, not trying to meet some idiot designer's concept of minimalist design-for-design's sake. Bauhaus, who Ives constantly cites as his muse, was ultimately about FUNCTIONALITY, not irrelevant and counter-productive innovation.

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