Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Shiny MacBook Keys

OSXDaily (tweet):

One of the worst things about the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is the shiny key issue. If you’re unfamiliar, the image above demonstrates the beginning stages of the shiny key development on my otherwise beautiful six month old MacBook Air, visible mostly on the shift key, but “A” and “S” are also beginning to display the hallmark worn key shine.

The shiny keys are unmistakable, and the wear occurs after routine use of MacBook keyboards. For some users they develop within weeks(!) and for others it can take a year or more to appear, but it seems that virtually every MacBook user who types on their built-in keyboard will eventually experience the shiny keys issue.


There are also tons of forum posts and pictures about shiny keys, worn keys, polished keys, stained keys, people refer to them differently, but they’re appearingon Apple‘s own supportdiscussionforums, MacRumors Forums, myriadredditthreads, and elsewhere. And yes, it does happen with some third party keyboards and PC keyboards too, but we’re focusing on the world of Apple laptop keyboards here.

Jeff Gamet:

Know why you can’t clean the greasy spots off your compute keyboard? Because that isn’t grease. Lots of computer keys are made from ABS plastic, which is soft and cheaper than PBT plastic. Those shiny spots are where you polished the keys by typing.

Via John Gruber (Mastodon):

Those old keycaps clearly weren’t made from cheap ABS plastic. But in recent decades, Apple’s keyboard keycaps have been made from ABS plastic (or, at least, some sort of plastic that develops a greasy-looking shine through use). I’d love to see Apple fix this problem. Apple’s just not known for cheaping out on materials.

John Gruber:

Also, there was a discussion on ATP episode 562 back in November about keycap wear, and one of their listeners pointed out that ABS can be made transparent to let backlighting shine through, but PBT cannot. You can make PBT keycaps with clear (ABS-filled) cut-outs for the letters, but that would undoubtedly add cost and complexity. My beloved Apple Extended Keyboard II has no backlighting at all. It’s quite possible that this entirely explains why Apple sticks with ABS despite the shiny-when-worn factor.

There are two issues here. First, the polish, which is a shame if it’s due to the backlighting, since I never use it. Second, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keys are more susceptible to showing actual grease (from natural skin oil, sunscreen, etc.) than desktop keyboards or even some of Apple’s older laptops, which had more matte keys. Either way, it looks gross, and I’d like Apple to improve this. My top priorities for the MacBook Pro, though, would be: smaller trackpad and/or better palm rejection, matte display, more USB ports, less sharp edge for the palm rest.


Update (2024-05-20): Craig Grannell:

Apple’s desktop ones are no better. This is just from normal use. Left Option and Command keys are a state also. Just over two years old. (The right arrow key also pinged off one day and has never quite sat right since. Quality…)

7 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I've noticed this for a long time, and I read about it when it was being discussed a few days ago. It's a yucky problem that Apple already fixed for their trackpad. The solution: make they keycaps out of glass not plastic! (Is this even viable? I have no idea!

> smaller trackpad

I hope nobody from Apple ever takes this seriously. Please stop writing it.

@Marcos Don’t worry. I couldn’t even get them to fix the Mail data loss bug. But maybe they can sprinkle some more AI on the palm rejection.

“ less sharp edge for the palm rest”
I also agree on the touchpad, it’s ridiculously big.

Daniël de Kok

I guess I'm surprised so many people type on their MacBooks. The keyboard on my MacBook pretty much only gets used when traveling. The keyboard is raised quite a bit compared to a desk (so you'd have to lower the desk to get a straight wrist/arm angle), the MacBook has sharp edges, and the keyboard results in ulnar deviation and pronation of the wrists. Long-term this gives many people (but not everyone) wrist issues.

I have stopped typing on the MacBook keyboard (or Magic Keyboard for that matter) as much as possible, because it results in wrist discomfort, whereas I have no issues at all on a proper ergonomic keyboard.

@Daniël To be clear, I only type on it when traveling, and for longer trips I pack an external keyboard, mouse, and Roost.

I've never liked any of apples mice or keyboards and I think it's a weird blind spot. Like an institutional disdain of comfortable inputs, 3.5" is the perfect size and all that.

I remember the useless microphone that came with one of my dad's earlier Macintoshes.

Makes me wonder if their refusal to provide VR controllers will be as bad a decision as sticking with a single button on the mouse.

The performance of progressiveness trumps the needs of the users.

People keep making this mistake. It’s not grease — your fingers actually erode and polish the ABS plastic until the surface becomes polished. If you have a rough skin, it happens faster.

I had exactly this discussion a while back when I was discussing with Keychron why their keycaps were opaque (they use PBT by default, and it is more resistant to abrasion). I went and got an ABS keycap set because I needed the backlight…

But my main point is that, ironically, moisturizing your fingertips might fix the shiny keys issue faster than Apple coming up with a material that isn’t as easily abraded and allows for the backlight to shine through.

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