Apple admits butterfly keyboard problems and promises free repairs

Apple made a big deal of the new switch design in the keyboard of its oh-so-thin MacBook when it introduced the laptop in March 2015. The company thought highly enough of the new switch to use it in its high-end MacBook Pro notebook line the following year. Those so-called butterfly switches have since gained a reputation for being just as delicate and fragile as their lepidopteran namesakes. The manufacturer is now copping to the problem and is offering free keyboard repairs to owners of certain models. The offer to fix the keyboard for free is a big jump in service compared to reports of $700 repair fees.

The butterfly switch was a departure from the typical scissor switch found in most competing portable machines, as well as certain desktop keyboards. The design is thinner than scissor-style switches, and Apple claims it offers a better typing feel and increased key stability versus competing mechanisms. Unfortunately, the company now says the switch can misbehave in the following ways:

  • Letters or characters repeat unexpectedly
  • Letters or characters do not appear
  • Key(s) feel "sticky" or do not respond in a consistent manner

The following machines are eligible for free keyboard repairs, according to Cupertino:

  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, Early 2015)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12­-inch, Early 2016)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, 2017)
  • MacBook Pro (13­-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2016)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2017)

Apple explicitly states that other Mac laptop models are not a part of the campaign. The repair could come in the form replacement of single or multiple keys or an entire new keyboard. Owners of the afflicted models can read more in Apple's announcement here.

Forbes' Ewan Spence notes that Apple posted the document in question late on Friday afternoon, a time slot usually reserved for trying to minimize the impact of a bit of bad news. The move is the latest in a series of belated admissions of design flaws from the world's largest consumer electronics design firm. Hopefully this admission is a step toward a less-fragile keyboard design on future Mac notebooks.

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