Apple is suffering the butterfly effect

Apple’s butterfly keyboard was meant to be a technological marvel, instead it was loud and broke too easily

Apple, Mac, notebook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, MacBook, butterfly keyboard
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Introduced with the MacBook in 2015, Apple’s butterfly keyboard was meant to be a technological marvel, instead it was loud in use and broken too easily.

Now Apple is offering to fix these keyboards at its retail stores in as little as a day.

Apple is suffering the butterfly effect

People who really like Apple products noticed problems with these keyboards.

In normal use, keys would jam as tiny pieces of dust crept underneath them; sometimes they would never work again. Sometimes they literally fell off the keyboard.

The problem is in the design. Apple’s butterfly keyboard is designed to be much thinner than others, but to achieve this it has created a delicate mechanism that jams very easily when dust gets under the key. The spring used is also quite weak.

The overall effect is that typing is louder and some people’s keyboards get jammed. Sometimes keys fall off.

Not what anyone expects from Apple.

Apple being Apple it never really admitted to problems with these keyboards until very recently. Instead it launched a keyboard replacement program in June 2018 and continued to tweak the keyboard design.

A matter of character

The 2016 MacBook Pro had a second-generation butterfly keyboard, but this also suffered problems. The current MacBook Pro and MacBook Air both boast the third-generation version of the butterfly keyboard, which is equipped with an elastic membrane designed to mitigate any dust-derived damage.

People still had problems.

Some filed lawsuits.

In early 2019, Apple was forced to admit the problems exist.

“We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry," an Apple spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern.

Apple continued to claim most Mac notebooks work fine and urged people to make contact if they had a problem.

It looks like plenty of people did make contact.

How else do you explain a recent leaked memo in which the company instructs its service and support teams in Apple retail stores to fix any faulty keyboards by the very next day? Apple has even supplied its stores with the spare parts. Why would it do this if there was little demand for repair?

What’s this thin thing anyway?

Apple has always focused on making its devices thinner. It’s moves to abandon interconnects and to adopt SSD storage on Macs helped it achieve this. The butterfly keyboard let it shave another millimetre off the design.

What’s open to question is when this thinner-by-design principle becomes more important than the product itself. What real use is a super-thin professional Mac if you also need to carry an external keyboard with you? What’s the user experience of owning the world’s most sophisticated notebook if you cannot type your own name on the thing?

Apple has tested Mac user loyalty for years at this point. Yet it sells more Macs now than it did a decade ago and still returns customer satisfaction scores that make it the envy of its peers in the PC game. People remain addicted to Mac love, so it is clearly doing something right.

However, if it comes to a trade-off between thinness and reliability, I think most Mac users will opt for the latter above the first.

That combination of power and reliability is, after all, the foundation not just of the Mac but all the other products derived from Apple’s Unix-based platform.

What can you do if your Mac is affected?

  • Follow these instructions to clean your Mac keyboard. You’ll need a can of compressed air. E, T, A, O, N are the most commonly used English characters and the ones you should make sure you clean most.
  • Visit an Apple Store or contact Apple Support online.
  • If your Mac is on this list then you will be eligible for free keyboard replacement.
  • Apple’s most recent 2018 models aren’t yet on the list, but should still be covered by existing one-year warranties.

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