2016 MacBook Pro butterfly keyboards failing twice as frequently as older models

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited May 1
Apple launched its new butterfly key-switch keyboard with the MacBook, with some usability complaints starting nearly immediately, but it wasn't until its adoption in the MacBook Pro in 2016 that reliability concerns started popping up -- and AppleInsider has the hard data on failure rates.

2016 MacBook Pro keyboard


Following anecdotal reports of a keyboard more prone to failure than in previous years, AppleInsider has collected service data for the first year of release of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 MacBook Pros, with an additional slightly shorter data set for the 2017 model year given that it hasn't been available for a year yet.

Not including any Touch Bar failures, the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard is failing twice as often in the first year of use as the 2014 or 2015 MacBook Pro models, and the 2017 is better, but not by a lot.

Assumptions

While Apple doesn't break out the numbers of MacBook Pros the company sells versus the rest of the Mac line, other data that we've collected in the course of this research suggests that the relative percentage of MacBook Pros to other models has remained the same.

Given that Mac sales are up only slightly year over year, we'll also assume for the sake of discussion and mathematics that there has been no appreciable increase in Mac sales.

2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys


Given that the keyboard mechanisms are the same in the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, we've combined the two models in this look. However, given that the numbers break down to about 45 percent 15-inch MacBook Pro and 45 percent 13-inch MacBook Pro across the whole dataset and model years, there is no real need to break them our separately.

We're also subtracting warranty-voiding accidents, like impacts, or water spills.

The keyboard data

All data has been collected from assorted Apple Genius Bars in the U.S. that we have been working with for several years, as well as Apple-authorized third-party repair shops.

The 2014 MacBook Pro model year saw 2120 service events in the first year, with 118 related to keyboard issues necessitating an upper case replacement -- 5.6 percent of all MacBook Pros serviced in the first year. The 2015 has 1904 service tickets, with 114 relating to the keyboard, making 6.0 percent.

The two numbers are very similar, which is to be expected. The keyboards were essentially unchanged since the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, and should have failure rates similar to each other.

Apple released the new keyboard with the MacBook, and moved the design to the 2016 MacBook Pro. In the first year of the 2016 MacBook Pro, our data gathered 1402 warranty events, with 165 related to only the keyboard and not including the Touch Bar -- 11.8 percent.

We don't have a full year of data for the 2017 MacBook Pro yet. But, since release in June 2017, our data set has 1161 captured service events with 94 related to keyboard issues also not including any Touch Bar issues -- 8.1 percent.

Failure rates across all four models are relatively static, with no appreciable increase or decrease in events reported at any time after release. Percentages of failures were comparable between the third-party authorized shops, and the Genius Bar data.

Recidivism

For the 2014 MacBook Pro, of the 118 repairs, 8 came back for a second go-around on the repair within 90 days. With the 2015, 6 did. None came back for a third time.

For the redesigned 2016 MacBook Pro, of the 165 keyboard repairs, 51 came back again once, and of those 51, 10 more came back for a third time. The 2017 fared better in this regard, with 17 of the 94 coming back once, and 3 of those coming back for a third time.

This does suggest that there is another factor besides the design contributing to the failure. But, a keyboard designed for durability and portability should consider at least some of these cases that are causing multiple failures.

The takeaway

Clearly, the increase in number of keyboard events in a decreasing population of first-year service demands is notable. While first-year service calls have gone down with the introduction of the new models, at the same time the incidence of keyboard repairs has gone up, notably.

Apple has a second-generation MacBook Pro keyboard. It is in the 2017 MacBook Pro, and repaired 2016 models. The repair percentages on those are up from the 2014 and 2015 keyboards as well, but not nearly as much as the 2016.

This is an expensive repair!

The keyboard isn't replaceable by itself. Break one key switch, and you need to replace the whole assembly, consisting of the keyboard, the battery, and the upper case metal surrounding the keyboard and Thunderbolt 3 ports.

2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar


We've seen out-of-warranty pricing with labor and parts exceeding $700 for the job, and it isn't an easy repair, necessitating a complete disassembly of the machine. This same repair is $400 on the 2014 and 2015 MacBook Pro -- cheaper, but still a lot of money.

Time for action

We don't know for sure how many GPU failures in the 2011 through 2013 MacBook Pro line caused Apple to act, nor do we know what triggered the display coating repair extension program.

But, the near-doubled failure rate of the keyboard in the first year on the 2016 MacBook Pro is a ticking time bomb for users, and it doesn't matter why.
tjwolfSEJUfastasleepAlex1Nra5543scousekenny
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 204
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,403member
    I have an Apple Store appt. this week for my MBP keyboard. Not sure if it’a a swollen battery pressing up, a bad mechanism, or just something caught underneath the space bar. I’m both expecting and hoping it’s the last option.

    I’m not sure if it’s the design of the mechanism, the travel, both, or something else, but I’m not a fan of this new keyboard design. Every time I hop back onto my 2105 MBP it feels much better.

    Even after months of daily use the new keyboard doesn't feel as good; but the display on the 2017 MBP is visually superior, not to mention other features and it’s performance, so it’s not I’ll go back.

    If they made a new MBP that feels as good as the previous MBP I’d upgrade right away.

    edit: Crumb or some other debris. Apple Store Genuis said they are very sensitive to obstructions compared to the previous keyboards.
    edited April 30 cornchipmerefieldlostkiwi1983racerhomie3pscooter63Alex1N[Deleted User]
  • Reply 2 of 204
    These keyboards represent one of the worst design decisions of anything Apple has created in recent history.

    Imagine hobbling a device that is supposed to be used by the professional daily for hours on end with an uncomfortable and unreliable keyboard.

    The whole 'boutique'-leaning design of the latest Mac Book Pros has been a disaster for Apple.  I'm still using my several year old device in the vain hope Apple will rectify this situation and give us a laptop which prioritises professional usage over superficiality and bling!

    I really don't want to compromise on keyboard comfort.  If it requires a device which is slightly thicker to achieve this, then please Apple, make it thicker!
    edited April 30 baconstangcgWerksAlex1NDavidAlGregory[Deleted User]GeorgeBMacBlock
  • Reply 3 of 204
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,133member
    Miss the days of the TiBook with the pop-out keyboard!
    brian greenkirkgrayAlex1Naknabi
  • Reply 4 of 204
    Using a 2017 model, I like the keyboard. However I do remember the older models had much easier to take off keys, I have had something stuck under a key, and spend 20 minutes trying to figure how to take the keys off just to find out it's more practical to take the stuck item out with a paperclip or something like that. The butterfly keyboard has its limitations.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 5 of 204
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,396member
    Mike,  great journalism.  

    tjwolfSEJUlostkiwi1983hodarcgWerkskirkgrayfastasleepAlex1Nchasm
  • Reply 6 of 204
    some think they wont do anything until the class action and the closer that is to 3 years the easier for them for them to deny repairs for other reasons
    Alex1N
  • Reply 7 of 204
    seankillseankill Posts: 445member
    merefield said:
    These keyboards represent one of the worst design decisions of anything Apple has created in recent history.

    Imagine hobbling a device that is supposed to be used by the professional daily for hours on end with an uncomfortable and unreliable keyboard.

    The whole 'boutique'-leaning design of the latest Mac Book Pros has been a disaster for Apple.  I'm still using my several year old device in the vain hope Apple will rectify this situation and give us a laptop which prioritises professional usage over superficiality and bling!
    The Apple apologists here will just say you should carry a keyboard with you everywhere you go. Plus never need to plug it in so MagSafe isn’t necessary, as though MacBooks 10 hour battery life is the case under heavy loads.
    baconstangpentae[Deleted User]aknabiaylk
  • Reply 8 of 204
    On my late 2016 MacBook Pro the z key stopped working reliably recently. Fortunately, I have AppleCare on the computer, so I made an Apple Genius appointment (took about three days). I was told that the keyboard would have to be replaced and it would take 3-5 days. Since it's my work computer, I asked if there was any other option and I was told no, that they have to send them all out for repairs. On one hand, the turn around was exceptional. I left my computer with Apple around 4 pm on a Monday and got it back around 9 am on Wednesday by Fedex Priority. But, on the other hand, if I did not have AppleCare, the price to replace the keyboard would have been $100 labor, $695 parts, plus tax or $854.63 total which makes AppleCare look like a bargain. I never used to purchase AppleCare on my Apple products because they were so reliable, but that is no longer the case.
    baconstangbrian greenhodarAlex1Npentae[Deleted User]GeorgeBMacflashfan207aylk
  • Reply 9 of 204
    EberhartEberhart Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    This just happened to me. My 'H' key for no apparent reason just started to fail this past weekend.  I'm going to try taking it in to get repaired, but that sounds like a scary problem.
  • Reply 10 of 204
    bsimpsenbsimpsen Posts: 250member
    You've got your numbers all wrong. Given that Apple sold north of 18 million Macs in 2016 (and probably a similar amount in 2014), it would be reasonable to assume that the MacBook Pro 13/15 unit volume was at least 5 million units and probably much higher. The "10% failure rate" you report means that the keyboard is responsible for 10% of the service work, not 10% of the installed base.

    By your own numbers, there were 2120 service events for the 2014 generation, which would represent a 0.424% failure rate (2120/5,000,000). Of those failures, 5.6% were keyboard related, for a total keyboard failure rate of 0.024%.

    Also by your own numbers, there were 1402 warranty events for 2016 MacBook Pros of which 11.8% were keyboard related. That's 0.035%.

    The keyboard failure rate has neither doubled (it's gone up by perhaps 45%), nor is it significant.
    tjwolfarcanineguyarcanineguyredgeminipaforegoneconclusion1983MisterKitracerhomie3larryajony0
  • Reply 11 of 204
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 341member
    I’d think that butterfly mechanism will lasts longer than those previous generations, giving that the rubbers aging quicker than stainless steels.  

    That said, there are switches that’s more complex than the butterfly, yet they still lasts very long if you can take care of them, so I guess it’s primarily the production quality that kills it, not so much on the design.
    edited April 30 1983Alex1N
  • Reply 12 of 204
    IreneWIreneW Posts: 112member
    Not really a fan of this keyboard, but I also understand that making a computer this thin has some complications. Since the key caps are not removable I have stopped eating at my desk.  
    Alex1Nchasm
  • Reply 13 of 204
    Horrible flawed keyboard. 

    An extremely infuriating design defect. 

    I dont have the patience for that sort of pathetic c**p which is why I’m still rocking a last gen top spec MacBook Pro 15 inch. 

    Though with Apple’s stubbornness I can’t see them changing it. 

    I’ve personally had four friends have theirs fail. Two within a week of purchasing. One had it happen twice and ditched the model to buy a refurb. 

    SPECTACULAR own goal Apple
    edited April 30 baconstangAlex1Naknabi
  • Reply 14 of 204
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 341member
    IreneW said:
    Not really a fan of this keyboard, but I also understand that making a computer this thin has some complications. Since the key caps are not removable I have stopped eating at my desk.  
    They are, you just have to be careful.

    Being thin doesn’t mean must have to sacrifice the travel, there are laptops that are thinner but offering more travels.
    baconstang
  • Reply 15 of 204
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Sounds about right. They really don’t feel that good to use, either.
    Alex1NGeorgeBMacaylk
  • Reply 16 of 204
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 218member
    seankill said:
    merefield said:
    These keyboards represent one of the worst design decisions of anything Apple has created in recent history.

    Imagine hobbling a device that is supposed to be used by the professional daily for hours on end with an uncomfortable and unreliable keyboard.

    The whole 'boutique'-leaning design of the latest Mac Book Pros has been a disaster for Apple.  I'm still using my several year old device in the vain hope Apple will rectify this situation and give us a laptop which prioritises professional usage over superficiality and bling!
    The Apple apologists here will just say you should carry a keyboard with you everywhere you go. Plus never need to plug it in so MagSafe isn’t necessary, as though MacBooks 10 hour battery life is the case under heavy loads.
    ...so you figure you might as well make an a$$ of yourself and increase the noise level of the thread before *that* happens?
    macxpressracerhomie3fastasleepAlex1Nrandominternetperson
  • Reply 17 of 204
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 341member
    Horrible flawed keyboard. 

    An extremely infuriating design defect. 

    I dont have the patience for that sort of pathetic c**p which is why I’m still rocking a last gen top spec MacBook Pro 15 inch. 

    Though with Apple’s stubbornness I can’t see them changing it. 

    I’ve personally had four friends have theirs fail. Two within a week of purchasing. One had it happen twice and ditched the model to buy a refurb. 

    SPECTACULAR own goal Apple
    Don’t let your hate blinds you.
  • Reply 18 of 204
    SEJUSEJU Posts: 40member
    bsimpsen said:
    You've got your numbers all wrong. Given that Apple sold north of 18 million Macs in 2016 (and probably a similar amount in 2014), it would be reasonable to assume that the MacBook Pro 13/15 unit volume was at least 5 million units and probably much higher. The "10% failure rate" you report means that the keyboard is responsible for 10% of the service work, not 10% of the installed base.

    By your own numbers, there were 2120 service events for the 2014 generation, which would represent a 0.424% failure rate (2120/5,000,000). Of those failures, 5.6% were keyboard related, for a total keyboard failure rate of 0.024%.

    Also by your own numbers, there were 1402 warranty events for 2016 MacBook Pros of which 11.8% were keyboard related. That's 0.035%.

    The keyboard failure rate has neither doubled (it's gone up by perhaps 45%), nor is it significant.
    It depends from what Mike is referring to A ) units sold B ) dataset gathered from a certain number of service points ...
    edited April 30 fastasleepaylk
  • Reply 19 of 204
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 204member
    I got the keyboard replaced for my 2016 MBP with touchbar, and this new keyboard is a LOT better, but I worry that it's just a matter of time before it fails. Also, I'm be surprised if the failure rate were only 10%. It also depends on what 'failure' means. If someone needs to come into an Apple Store and have an employee blow the key out with compressed air, does that count as a failure? I think there's just a lot of people out there who live with broken or poorly performance things because they don't have the time/energy/pickiness to fix it. They just hit the key harder, use compressed air, or accept that sometimes the keys don't work.
    baconstangapplesnorangesAlex1NBlock
  • Reply 20 of 204
    I had the keyboard (and with it the top case and batteries) replaced once under warranty.

    After three months the cursor down key is unreliable (when not hit exactly in the middle) again.

    Unfortunately Apple seems considering (patent) going to a touch keyboard - I don't have any interest in toy computers (and being as unproductive as on an iPad)...
    Alex1NGeorgeBMac
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