Normally known for their superior build quality and ability to outlast any Windows laptop, Apple has come across a setback in their ongoing journey to slim down their MacBooks. This setback comes in the form of a malfunction in the typing keys when exposed to a light amount of debris.
Put frankly, their keyboards keep breaking any time a crumb gets under a key.
Now, keyboards have been around for a long time—since before computers even—so you would think that companies should have mastered the design by now. But, there’s actually a lot of engineering and mechanical movement going on behind each key. As it turns out, that mechanical movement is very hard to shrink down to the size that Apple wants it so it fits the sleek form factor of their MacBooks.
Wanted slimmer laptop
This left the engineers at Apple in a conundrum. They wanted slimmer laptops, but the limiting factor was keyboard button mechanics. So, the Apple geniuses (the actual geniuses who design the products that change our lives, not the ones in the t-shirts at the store who try to upsell the Applecare) decided to re-invent the keyboard. They patented a revolutionary new design for all the moving parts behind the keys you press. They called their new design the “butterfly switch.”
While the keyboard looks the same on the outside, it’s easy to feel the design difference. Just try typing on a 2015 or later model MacBook and a non-Apple laptop and you’ll immediately notice a big difference. MacBook keyboard keys don’t have nearly as much up and down movement to them—mainly because there’s not enough physical space in the MacBook’s design for that much movement.
This new design was lauded at first. Apple geniuses were high-fiving and dancing in the streets with AirPods in their ears. That is, until people started flocking back to the store, complaining that their $2,000 dollar machine was rendered useless thanks to a speck of dust or a single, solitary crumb. As it turned out, the new keyboard design was extremely vulnerable to even the smallest amount of debris. If even a little bit of dirt or crumb got under your key, it would be rendered useless—doing nothing when you pressed it. Or, worse, a key would get stuck in the down position leaving your laptop constantly screaming “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” every time you tried to type something.
Apple tried to come up with a fix with their 2018 models, placing a small silicone protector around the vulnerable parts to keep dirt and debris out, as well as make typing quieter. In addition to their attempts at fixing the problem, Apple rolled out a special care plan specifically for the broken keyboards, offering to replace them free of charge up to four years after purchase. Users were hopeful at first, but some keyboards still seemed to be breaking.
Now, in 2019, Apple recently announced another design tweak on their keyboard mechanics. This time around, there’s a new material on the switch mechanism of the 13 and 15 inch pro models with touch bar. This new material should increase reliability of the keys to reduce any unintended double presses or empty presses—with or without debris. However, Apple doesn’t seem very talkative as to what the material is or any further specifics. Also, Apple’s keyboard care plan now covers any MacBook that has the butterfly switch— the initial rollout of the repair program only covered certain models.
Only time will tell if their latest changes will solve the keyboard problem. If not, you can at least rest assured that their care plan will help you out should your several thousand dollar MacBook be defeated by a rogue Cheeto crumb.