iFixit Examines Apple’s 4th Try at Butterfly Keyboard

Posted on May 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Hardware, Mac and macOS with 30 Comments

The teardown experts at iFixit revealed today that Apple has made two minor changes to its 4th-generation butterfly keyboard in a bid to finally put the reliability issues behind it. But the changes are minor, and it’s unclear if Apple has solved the problems.

“Apple’s newest MacBook Pro features a mysterious new keyboard material,” iFixit notes. “Since it’s unlikely that Apple’s going to expound on this ‘material,’ and we’re never satisfied with an unsolved mystery, it’s time once again to take a closer look at the infamous butterfly keyboard.”

And the butterfly keyboard is infamous. The first version debuted with the 2015 Macbook, and subsequent versions appeared in various MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models released since then. In each case, users reported multiple problems with the keyboards, forcing Apple to quietly and then publicly expand its free service program for the laptops.

Earlier this week, Apple announced a new generation of more powerful MacBook Pros, and while Apple isn’t marketing the keyboard fixes—it only notes that the new keyboard offers a “quieter typing experience”—the firm had previously apologized for the issues and was known to be releasing an updated keyboard with its next MacBooks.

So, now that they’re here, iFixIt has torn one apart to see what Apple changed. And it ain’t much.

“The transparent switch cover material [which is designed to keep dust and debris out] changed this year,” iFixIt reports. “The cover in the 2018 model is semi-opaque, somewhat tacky, and feels like silicone. The new model is clearer and smooth to the touch.” Basically, Apple changed the cover material from Polyacetylene to nylon. But iFixit has no idea why.

Second, the metal dome switch in each key in the keyboard changed a bit, too. iFixit believes they are still made of ferritic stainless steel, but that Apple has changed the composition of the thin polymer coating on the bottom in order to make the switches more durable, hopefully eliminating some failures.

So. did Apple “fix” the butterfly keyboard?

No, iFixit says. “The fundamental problem with this laptop remains—if the slightest thing ever goes wrong, you’ll be replacing half the machine,” the firm notes. “Even if the keyboard is perfect this time, you’re taking a gamble on everything else.” And it has rated the new MacBook Pro a woeful 1/10—its worst-possible score for repairability.

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “iFixit Examines Apple’s 4th Try at Butterfly Keyboard”

  1. brduffy

    Well something going wrong is always a headache with Apple stuff but I can't understand why they don't just go back to the keyboards they had in the mid 2014 laptop range. Those keyboards are perfect and the nightmare I keep hearing about these new ones is the sole reason I have not upgraded to a new Mac yet. I'm waiting for them to fix the keyboard and it looks like they still have not done it.

    • noflames

      In reply to brduffy: could it be they don't want them to be too reliable so people will replace more frequently? That's what most other industries do when the growth slows down.

      • SvenJ

        In reply to NoFlames: I don't go with that particular conspiracy theory. My theory is that Apple's keyboards were the gold standard for a long time, but PC keyboards were catching up, and in some cases got better. Apple couldn't stand that and tried to engineer an improvement. Didn't happen and they haven't a clue what to do about it. Going back to 'just as good' isn't an option in their culture.


      In reply to brduffy:

      I'm typing this on my 2014 15" MacBook Pro right now... I've been holding off on an upgrade but now may be the time. 8 Cores in a Mac Laptop? I'm ready for that!

      • dontbe evil

        In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:

        8 cores with throttling, over heating and faulty keyboard ... go help your beloved apple buying it

      • Stooks

        In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:

        8 Cores in the same form factor. Please do a search on the 2018 6 core Mac....aka Throttle book.

        Within a week of its release you had videos on YouTube where people were rendering video content on those 2018 i9-6 core Macbooks that would throttle like crazy. The 4 core i7's were able to out perform them in the same test.

        The issue was too much CPU in a small form factor. Heat issues. The fix from Apple, was a firmware update that never let the CPU hit its Turbo frequency, basically gimping the CPU. Windows laptops that used the same 6 core CPU fared way better, because they were thicker, heavier and all around bigger.

        So how in the H E double LL is a 8 core going to do any better in the same form factor?

        Hey but you can spend a lot of money on one and look cool at the same time!

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to brduffy:

      Likely because the old design couldn't be made as thin as the new one and having the new generation products one mm thicker would be something their executive staff would see as a defeat.

  2. brettscoast

    Apple has really dropped the ball on what is a premium laptop. Issues like this shouldn't exist at all and the laxity which Apple has shown towards fixing this properly is simply not good enough.

  3. MikeGalos

    You have to love iFixit's comment: "Topping it all off is the key cap. This has a handy label to tell users which key is broken."

  4. abdulla77

    I haven't bought a macbook since 2012.. still works. Not bothered to go through the hassle until the whole 'butterfly' mechanism is gone.

  5. dontbe evil

    the best keyboard evaaaaaaaaaaaa... if you have some issues, is just because your typing it wrong

  6. JoePaulson

    Hey Apple....Give up on that stupid keyboard and go back to a regular one.

  7. falonyn

    I will wait to see if we continue to see defects come back, but I think they are at a breaking point. They have tried fixing this now three times and we are on the fourth generation. Their confidence in this fix is obviously not there as they already have extended their repair program to this model.

    The problem is two fold. They are damaging the reputation of these products and showing that getting this right is more important than delivering a consistently good experience with an older and more reliable keyboard technology.

    The second is, if they do move to a new keyboard design, like the flexible glass keys that are pressure activated and have haptic feedback, who will trust it? Clearly Apple is not testing these designs in a manner that will reveal these problems before they send it to production. What problem will a new keyboard design have that they didn't find?

    I don't plan on buying a Mac until they fix quite a few things, but this is near the top of the list.

  8. puggsly

    Two things!

    1) There is every indication that Apple corrected the problem of the keyboard and iFixit is just unhappy that they didn't go more modular so individual components could be replaced.

    2) The photo above appears to show a key fully disassembled so why couldn't the key be fixed?

    Remember Apple is fixing these keyboards on their dime so they have a huge incentive to fix this issue depending on how many keyboards are affected.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to puggsly:

      And they’re going to be fixing them for a long time. The repair program really should be for the life of the machine, not some measly three years.

      And to save themselves any more embarrassment over these crappy machines, they should introduce a new design sooner than later.

      In in fact I have some suggestions for Apple and their useless wheel-spinning over the Mac. It involves going back to all of their circa 2010 lineup but with modern components. Removable batteries, DVD burners, real keyboards! A 17” model! The giant full tower Mac Pro!

      Those were better products than any of the crud they sell now.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to jimchamplin:

        And the "repair" should be replacing the defective designs (all three of them, maybe four) with a design that actually works. Replacing a defective part with a known defective part isn't a repair.

        As to the time machine, even here we see the Apple fans talking about how they're still using five year old hardware because they don't want to trade down. Used prices on old Apple computers have gone up where used prices on newer ones haven't. The customers who really use Apple products are using their own version of a time machine.

    • Stooks

      In reply to puggsly:

      Puggsly....put down the cool-aid. Facts...

      Since they moved to this Keyboard design (12inch 2015 Macbook nothing) they have had both problems and bad review after bad review after bad review.

      They ignored it for 2015, 2016, 2017 (making changes to the 2017 models, but not acknowledging those changes in 2017) and finally addressed it in 2018 with a free repair/replacement program that covered 2015-2017 devices, and a fix that for 2018 models to END THE MADNESS. In 2019 they fixed it for a third time and added the 2018 Macbooks to the free repair/replacement program, and admitting that the 2018 fix, did not fix the issue. There is no way Apple would do all of this unless they had a serious problem.....aka Xbox 360 RROD....type problem.

      So now in 2019 they made some minor changes for the third time, to fix the problem despite that FACT that customers are screaming for the 2015 < type keyboard to come back. Seriously WTF...Over???

      I am being nice, honestly I am. If you are buying these throttle books, at these prices, with this joke of a keyboard (shallow, horrible feel, that is fixed...this time....we promise) you are simply a narcissistic idiot that values being cool (or thinking you are cool) by having a Macbook.....aka Form over Function. These type of people make for good people watching in airports while waiting for a plane.

  9. longhorn

    "And it has rated the new MacBook Pro a woeful 1/10—its worst-possible score for repairability."

    Both generations of the Surface Laptop got repairability score 0.

      • jimross2

        In reply to CrownSeven:

        That 1/10 shouldn't be said to be the worst possible score for repairability if it isn't. Surface Laptop proves a lower score exists. longhorn's point was that statement is untrue and should be corrected.

        Here's a direct quote from iFixIt's website

        "Our engineers disassembled and analyzed each device, awarding a repairability score between zero and ten..."

        - Full disclosure, my last laptop was an older MacBook Pro, and I'm typing this now on a Surface Laptop I've owned for over a year.

  10. BrianEricFord

    Saying Apple didn’t fix a breaking keyboard problem ... that may actually have been fixed ... because consumers can’t repair a problem that ... might now be fixed is ... a curious angle to take.

    But classic iFixit.

  11. cheetahdriver

    I don't get this. I treat Thinkpads like tools, I have even pilled wrenches in on top of them on occasion. I have been in high dust, high particulate and had metal shavings spray over one. I have, with one exception (which turned out to be food waste of all things) had no problems with keyboards (or any other thing) on the units.

    This is (still and continuing) a major fail for Apple.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to cheetahdriver:

      “Thin to win.”

      My dad used to joke that car makers would roll the steel thinner every year, and sandwich shops would give you less on your sandwich. “Thin” was cheap and was a signal of cutting costs.

      Apple’s MO for Macs is thin. And every time they make them thinner, they get worse. Thin to win at making the most useless computer.

      • skborders

        In reply to jimchamplin:

        At least for the automobile it makes them lighter, get better fuel mileage and believe it or not, safer for the occupant, as they can put the bulk of the weight, strength and impact absorption in the structure.

        I am not sure there is any tangible benefit in making a laptop so thin you have to put a terrible keyboard in it.

  12. CRoebuck

    Notice that the 2019 model is already added to the keyboard repair program. Is this Apple saying "buy with confidence, we got you" or a sign that it's not a full fix. Guess we'll find out in the coming months.