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.

Comments closed
    • tipoo
    • 1 year ago

    If the (hopefully) 2018 revision has a change to this keyboard to address the dust jamming issue (as it damn well better), I hope they also just go all the way and make it a splash resistant keyboard. A tiny droplet of water getting in under a Macbook key is how I’ve seen many a mac key die, and replacing them is a labor intensive chore with just about everything in the system besides the display between you and the keyboard, as well as something like 57 rivets or something stupid, sometimes some of those rivets break and don’t come out cleanly leaving you with a 1mm raise somewhere in the keyboard which you can never un-notice…

    Err, where was I…Oh yeah, just splashproof the keyboard while you’re at it, Apple, if you’re hellbent on the unrepairable direction. My work thinkpad both has a waterproof keyboard that I never noticed any compromise from in feel, and a single screw lets you replace it with a new one for some pocket lint, the latter half is beyond hope from Apple most likely, but I hope for at least the first.

    • psuedonymous
    • 1 year ago

    The big stink over these failing keyboards was the, due to the design of the MBP, they are close to impossible to ‘replace’. It’s not a Thinkpad where you can just pop off the bezel and swap the keyboard, or even go ‘through the back’ and remove the systemboard to take the keyboard out the back way.

    No, to swap the keyboard on a new MBP effectively means a new chassis with the replacement keyboard in place. The keyboard is bonded into the backside of the chassis, so not only do you need to remove the system board, you need to debond the batteries, debond the touchbar, debond the keyboard, and hope that none of these operations caused even the slightest flex to the thin upper chassis material or you will never be able to re-assemble properly in a way that the keyboard actually operates (due to the tiny tolerances required by the minimal key travel). Then to re-assemble you need the equipment to rebond everything with the correct bond layer thickness.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    The most ridiculous thing about this whole idiotic affair is that before Apple admitted their mistake, they would charge up to $700 to replace their defective keyboard.

    I like [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KuVvb9DTaU<]this angry man[/url<] when it comes to a professional verdict on Apple design.

    • neverthehero
    • 1 year ago

    The flurry of links at the end forgot one, the iPhone 7 no service issue. Plus likely the upcoming mic/volume issue(it hasn’t happened yet but give it time). I’m in agreement with the people that spoke to waiting so long to say something. It’s like the old insurance companies that deny,deny,deny, approved! It ends up coming off as if the user is doing something wrong. Or they leave tech support in the lurch to do troubleshooting steps that are more busy work than legitimate things that will resolve the core issue.

    • DancinJack
    • 1 year ago

    Just want to say it’s really amusing to watch the Apple haters come out of the woodwork for virtually every Apple article or post on this site.

      • Redocbew
      • 1 year ago

      Trolls live at the poles, and things seem to be getting more and more polarized all the time.

      • chuckula
      • 1 year ago

      Well there would be an slew of posts defending Apple, but it’s hard to type when your keys are sticking.

        • FireGryphon
        • 1 year ago

        You win.

        • Wirko
        • 1 year ago

        Some of them listened to their cook’s advice, “you’re eating your sandwich wrong”, and those actually have a breadcrumb-free MBP.

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        IfIcouldusemyspacebari’dhaveawittyresponsehere

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      1- The conclusion to the argument that Person hates X due only to being a hater of X is a generalization that fails before it even becomes a serious contender.

      2- Some people like Rossmann have an axe to grind; this though is a vindication to some of his criticisms, in particular with this type of keyboard. So, even “haters” may be right if they make claims, rebuttals, and hold other entities honest if they manage to do so in an ethically & intellectually honest way like Rossmann has done so with his reviews of products that he obviously has an expertise and experience working on Apple products arguably better than Apple-approved first-party providers.

      3- Obviously, this is to this particular issue, and it doesn’t make everything else that Rossmann says, claims, etc true just because he was right about this. Yet, let’s give credit to Rossmann and others for keeping Apple honest on behalf of the little guys. The same for Apple for finally doing something about it. Better late than ever I say.

      uni-mitation

    • blastdoor
    • 1 year ago

    I have one of these MBPs and have found the keyboard to be fine — not great, not terrible, just fine. I’m glad to know that I can get it repaired if it has problems.

    But I mostly use it with an external monitor and keyboard anyway, so I suspect the probability that I’ll be affected is kind of low.

    edit —

    It’s kind of a nontrivial failure of testing that Apple let this design into the wild with a flaw like this. Somebody should get a stern talking to over this.

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      They knew these keyboards would have reduced reliability and low quality of ergonomics but there are two things to remember:

      1. Unless you fork out extra for AppleCare, they don’t care about you after the warranty expires.
      2. Apple were (still are, in some cases) obsessed with making things thin, way beyond the point of practical returns.

        • TEAMSWITCHER
        • 1 year ago

        Doesn’t this out-of-warranty repair program kinda prove you wrong?

          • blastdoor
          • 1 year ago

          Yup.

          This just seems like a screw-up. Either they didn’t do enough testing (or the right testing) or they ignored the results.

          It’s just dumb, and now they’re paying the price. Hopefully a lesson is learned…

            • tipoo
            • 1 year ago

            I feel like ol’ Jonnys lab here doesn’t get much in the way of dust.

            [url<]https://cdn0.tnwcdn.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2015/12/apple7.jpg[/url<] Though of course for proper testing they should have had field test units out everywhere, but the toughest environments on it are probably also hard to keep the new model hidden from prying eyes.

            • DancinJack
            • 1 year ago

            I’m sure they tested them properly and just made a business decision it was worth the drawbacks to go this way. Apple is nearly a trillion dollar company. They know what they’re doing (for the most part).

            • Chrispy_
            • 1 year ago

            Definitely.

            They have empirical data from [b<]BILLIONS[/b<] of sales to know [i<]exactly[/i<] how many corners they can cut and still get away with it. They obviously miscalculated slightly here, but even the cost to Apple of this 'free replacement' gesture is likely covered by the exorbitant fees they've been charging their [s<]loyal customers[/s<] Stockholm-syndrome victims since 2015 for something as simple as a faulty keyboard.

          • Redocbew
          • 1 year ago

          Providing a free repair when it’s clear they goofed is a separate issue from “not caring” about devices without extended warranties. Designing the machine such that any repair to the keyboard is impossible without spending hundreds of dollars isn’t something that just happens. It was a choice made to put form over function the same way as cracking the glass on the screen of your phone will cost hundreds of dollars, because they can’t replace just the glass.

          Obviously the cost of all this won’t even be a rounding error. It’s just ironic that this time Apple is the one paying a lot more than they would have otherwise.

          • Chrispy_
          • 1 year ago

          There have been so many keyboard failures that this goes beyond it being an ‘out-of-warranty’ issue; The free replacement gesture here has probably been carefully calculated by Apple lawyers and beancounters to be enough to stave off another class-action lawsuit.

          If they were genuine, they would have issued a product recall within about six months of launch. What happens to people who get their keyboard replaced with another, identically-flawed one, only to have it fail just after the magic 4 year window?Every other keyboard in the industry is rated for somewhere between 5 million and 50 million key presses, yet very few of Apple’s butterfly switches are even reaching a fraction of that. They are faulty by design and that statement applies to the replacements too.

    • spiketheaardvark
    • 1 year ago

    While they’re admitting these keyboards break they should also own up to these being sucky keyboards.

      • DancinJack
      • 1 year ago

      agree.

      I am refusing to update my rMBP 2015 largely in part due to the keyboard. It pisses me off.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 1 year ago

      As a 2017 MBP owner I agree.

      I do use touch ID, though. That part of the device is nice. Same as any other fingerprint reader, I suppose.

        • DancinJack
        • 1 year ago

        That reminds me, the touchbar is absolute hot garbage. They just need to get rid of it. Extra work from devs + no REAL, substantive benefit to like 97 percent of consumers is a really odd thing to have to have in a computer.

        New keyboard – i’ll settle for the 2015 rMBP keyboard, really
        No touchbar (though honestly if I’m forced to I’ll live with it but this is a wishlist eh)
        i5 8th gen minimum
        At least a MX150 level GPU in lieu of KL-G (really wish they’d go back to Nvidia for the power/efficiency gains)
        16GB RAM minimum

        Those are the things that will get me to buy a new MBP. I don’t need it thinner. I don’t need it to weigh less. I’ll probably get at least the CPU, GPU, and RAM, but I’m not really optimistic about the others.

          • chuckula
          • 1 year ago

          If they get rid of the touchbar then that ARM chip that runs it can be re-tasked to just run the whole system!

        • spiketheaardvark
        • 1 year ago

        I’ve used touch screens with as much travel as these new macs. Some of those old restive displays are pretty close. I’v noticed many of the younger people at work raised more on laptop keyboard oddly seem to prefer these short travel flat top keyboards. I blame HID Stockholm syndrome.

      • FireGryphon
      • 1 year ago

      The new touchpads are poor as well. I like a real click. This force touch nonsense is just another expensive part to break, and it has the same tactile finesse of the keyboard, namely none.

        • DancinJack
        • 1 year ago

        I actually disagree with almost all this comment. I like the new Touchpad just fine. I’m also not sure if it costs more in the long run than a physical depressing pad.

        It doesn’t feel the exact same, no, but just put it on firm and get over it. It’s fine.

    • tipoo
    • 1 year ago

    4 years is pretty good, but the 2009-2011s Solder issues were weighing on my mind for this, and that hunch proved itself.

    If you have a 2015 Macbook, you have 4 years from the original purchase date. The program started 3 years after the issue, leaving you with a one year window for it to conveniently fall in, or else you’re still boned, unless you already forked out for a replacement out of pocket.

    4 years for a new purchase isn’t /bad/, but I’d still be pissed if my $3K 15″ rMBP purchased today were to be out of support for jammed keyboards 4 years out, otherwise costing a 700 dollar top case to get working again. A large part of spending that much on a Mac is feeling that it can last you longer than 4 years, for me at least.

    And just like the solder issues, you’re only getting replacements with parts that still have the issue, leaving you with a ticking time bomb feeling.

      • DancinJack
      • 1 year ago

      If you would be so kind as to name any other company that offers a replacement FOUR YEARS after the original purchase date at no charge, I would be greatly appreciative.

      I’ll wait.

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        I don’t believe I claimed industry standard does better; that’s why I’m on Apple (2015 15″ rMBP and waiting patiently to see the next bump, fwiw)

        I’m giving this a firm good but with caveats, and I recognize that any other company would probably just have an issue like this fly under the radar (i.e Dell too had GPU solder failures on the same years as Apple, most of the industry did). The biggest issue is they waited 3 years after the first affected model to start.

        • willmore
        • 1 year ago

        I got a replacement power supply from Dell more than 4 years after the original purchase date for a laptop. It was recalled because of a safety issue, so maybe that makes it different.

          • DancinJack
          • 1 year ago

          That’s not the same thing, as you stated.

        • Kurlon
        • 1 year ago

        Apple isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their heart. There are multiple class action lawsuits around the world for this faulty keyboard design. They’re in damage control mode now on the issue.

          • DancinJack
          • 1 year ago

          Where did I say that was the case?

      • Eversor
      • 1 year ago

      “A large part of spending that much on a Mac…”

      Is feeling you have something pretty that lots of other people can’t afford. Has Apple ever been known for build quality? Leading (bleeding) edge tech, for sure.

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        Eh. Not for me, if anything I shy away from using them where people will see, but I use them because they’re nice to use for my own experience.

        “Has Apple ever been known for build quality?”

        Wait…Yes? Not sure what you mean. Build quality has long been what they’ve been known for.

        • DancinJack
        • 1 year ago

        Have you ever used an Apple product?

        By and large Apple products are vastly, vastly better made products than most, and in some cases – all, of their competitors. Sure, they have issues, and those issues get blown up in the media (and rightfully so at times), but Apple products are generally anything but shoddily made.

        • Shobai
        • 1 year ago

        They’re also known for whitewashing their forums when people post about issues.

          • willmore
          • 1 year ago

          This is important and needs to be widely understood. They have a long history of removing any post which points to problems with their products–software or hardware. It’s not an occasional thing, either, it’s pervasive.

          Not only does this make it hard for people to search for solutions to their problems, but it makes them feel that they are alone in their problem. That makes them less likely to persue Apple to come up with a solution. Conversely, when it’s clear that a problem is widespread, people will tend to band togher and force vendors to solve a problem.

          Yes, I get it, it’s Apples forum and they can control what’s said on it. I’m not arguing the legality of it. I’m arguing that it’s a dishonest way of dealing with your customers. It’s a form of dishonesty that extends throughout their business practices.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    Don’t worry, Apple is already developing a courageous [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BnLbv6QYcA&t=19s<]permanent replacement.[/url<]

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      I knew someone would use the Onion piece. What strikes me the hardest is that some rabid fans would totally buy it!

      +1

      uni-mitation

      • Redocbew
      • 1 year ago

      The funny thing about the Onion is they probably have a better track record of headlines that come true than some other sites who we’re supposed to take seriously.

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        The infamous

        [url<]https://www.theonion.com/TECHREPORT-everything-were-doing-five-blades-1819584036[/url<] Edit oh lol, the URL is bleeped because of a word in it, replace techreport with what rhymes with duck

      • blastdoor
      • 1 year ago

      Very good satire from The Onion as always, +3 for you.

      That definitely is the trap that Apple can sometimes fall into.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 1 year ago

    Do the repairs include going back to the old design? It’s the one thing I want to change about my 2017 MBP.

      • Peter.Parker
      • 1 year ago

      Sorry! No backsies.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        Dang it.

      • just brew it!
      • 1 year ago

      The reported keyboard issues are one of the things keeping me from letting IT upgrade my work MBP. I plan to keep using the existing one until IT stops supporting it or the battery gives out, whichever comes first.

        • Kretschmer
        • 1 year ago

        XPS line is a superior laptop, anyways. Apple frittered away their design lead by fixing things that ain’t broke.

          • just brew it!
          • 1 year ago

          Our business unit has standardized on MBPs unfortunately. I could probably get a non-Apple laptop if I insisted, but then it would be a Lenovo (not a Dell).

            • Kretschmer
            • 1 year ago

            Might be worth taking a Lenovo for a spin. Some of their stuff is quite nifty. I don’t trust Apple to prioritize professionals over very casual users, anymore.

            • Chrispy_
            • 1 year ago

            Can’t agree more with this; Lenovo have gone downhill in terms of suitability for professionals but nowhere near as much as Apple, and at least there are still excellent options in the Lenovo range.

            I used to consider my MBP as the ultimate, luxury UNIX tool – but with the bloating of the OS, the reduction of ports, features, quality, and reliability – there’s no way I’d buy a current MBP, and that’s even ignoring the unwarranted price hikes compared to their competition. Apple has always been expensive but justified that with advantages like unibody design and retina displays. Now you can get [i<]better[/i<] chassis and displays for [/i]less[/i], Apple really do look like trashy consumer fashion statements above all else. Jobs would never have let Apple stagnate like this.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 1 year ago

            The stench of stagnation is very real.

            • Oem
            • 1 year ago

            I would think WSL has made Windows machines a league better these days for those needing a UNIX environment (at least compared to Windows before 10), but I am no expert, perhaps UNIX-via-Mac users can comment on how the two OS’s compare these days for UNIX work.

            • tipoo
            • 1 year ago

            Yep. Apple was always on the high end of pricing, but it used to be that to match them feature for feature you’d be around the same cost anyways. But since the 2016 rMBP redesign, prices have been riding above that by a few hundreds and haven’t returned to normal since. I hope this isn’t just the new normal.

            That compounded by foreign exchange rates makes it a double ouchie, that part isn’t their fault, but they could serve to correct for a strengthening CAD as quickly as they do a weakening CAD.

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            Unfortunately, I would not have my pick of the Lenovo models. It would have to be chosen from among whatever IT currently stocks/supports, and some of the (few) people who opted for a Lenovo have been very unhappy with it. I’ll stick with the “devil I know” at this point.

            • Kretschmer
            • 1 year ago

            Well, if they’re up for spending $2,500 on MBPs there must be a high-end alternative (XPS, Lenovo Carbon, etc) to borrow for a bit. Good luck!

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            I assume you’ve never dealt with the IT department at a large corporation before. 😉

            For devices which will be used on the corporate intranet, any deviation from the pre-approved list of officially supported models means going down a rabbit hole from which you may never emerge.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 1 year ago

            Aren’t you using a mechanical keyboard and external display at work anyway? That’s just about the only way I use my MBP unless I have to take it to class.

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            Yeah, I use a real keyboard when I’m sitting at a desk. I have a really long commute though, so I need to deal with the built-in keyboard if I want to get anything done on the train.

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