MacBook ‘butterfly’ keyboard problems epic enough to spawn recall petition

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The ‘butterfly’ keyboard used in MacBooks draws frequent complaints. And these have now escalated to the point where an online petition is requesting that Apple recall every MacBook Pro released since 2016.

These laptops are super slim, and so are their keyboards. Reducing the thickness left room for very little key travel, resulting in accusations that even a small speck underneath one of the keys causes it to stop functioning.

The ‘butterfly’ name comes from the shape of each key’s internal mechanism. In the 2015 MacBook, Apple replaced the old scissor design with one reminiscent of a butterfly. 

It’s supposed to more evenly distribute the pressure from tapping on the keys. As mentioned, it’s also 40 percent thinner.

There also seems to be something about the design that makes it prone to getting stuck.

MacBook butterfly keyboard
The MacBook butterfly keyboard is thinner, but less reliable.
Photo: Apple

The petition on Change.org asks for a recall of all the MacBook Pros released since 2016. It comes from Matthew Taylor, an author who has been using Apple computers since 1981. He has used exclusively Macs to publish more than 50 books.

His troubles started when he got his first laptop with a butterfly keyboard “I purchased this MacBook Pro in Dec 2016, and less than a year later the L key became intermittent and unreliable,” he explained to Cult of Mac. “I took it into an Apple store and the genius bar replaced the L key in late 2017. That replacement L key failed within a month, and *then* the right-side Shift key became similarly intermittent and unreliable in early 2018.” 

Epidemic of MacBook butterfly keyboard problems

Taylor is far from alone. Even a cursory search turned up dozens of people complaining. Zach Perret said on Twitter “Lots of problems with new MacBook keys stuck down. Based on people near me, the apparent solution is to. bang persistently on the keyboard.”

Matti Haapoja used the same platform to say “Just realized how crappy Apples new butterfly keyboard is. I want the old one back.”

Marco Arment wrote “Lots of keys now getting sticky and unreliable on my two-month-old MacBook Pro. Mac laptops I’ve owned: ~10 Keyboard problems before now: 0”

And these are just a small sample of the vast number to be found online. The problem is so general that a recent study found that the MacBook butterfly keyboard needs to be serviced twice as much as the keyboards of older devices.

Just a lot of air

Apple suggested solution for the problem of sticking keys on the MacBook (2015 and later) or MacBook Pro (2016 and later) is to attempt to dislodge the offending speck with compressed air.

There’s even a page on the company’s support site describing the recommended procedure.

Obviously, this is of limited use or the complaints wouldn’t continue.

Real solution

Taylor’s MacBook Pro petition calls for Apple to “replace the keyboards on all of them with new, redesigned keyboards that just work.” 

As he said to us, a redesign is necessary because “replacing the keyboard with one of essentially the same design is NOT viable, because the design is fatally flawed.”

What the petition is requesting would be a huge undertaking. Apple already redesigned the butterfly keyboard once, and that new version is installed in new MacBooks and ones brought in with stuck keys. Nevertheless, people still complain about the same problem. 

It would be an even more herculean, and expensive, project because the keyboard isn’t a stand-alone part of the laptop. We asked Kyle Wiens from iFixit about the difficulties, and he pointed out that replacing the keyboard requires exchanging a large section of the computer, including the touchpad, the speakers, and even the battery.

Nevertheless, Taylor says “People should sign this petition to hold Apple accountable to the ideals of its ‘Designed by Apple in California’ signature. Apple must rectify this design failure.”

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Cult of Mac

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