2018 MacBook Pro keyboards include silicone membrane, might protect against key failure

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2018
Apple is advertising the new MacBooks as having an updated, "quieter" keyboard, but has said little about the new design. A teardown of the hardware on Friday, however, reveals a new silicone membrane encases each key that potentially serves as a dust-repelling feature to protect against malfunctions.

MacBook Pro Teardown
Source: iFixit


Repair specialist iFixit tore down the latest MacBook Pro and quickly found a noticeable change to the keyboard design -- a thin, silicone membrane surrounding each butterfly mechanism. This thin film, located under each individual keycap, appears designed to prevent dust and debris from interfering with key operation, an issue that cropped up in previous generation butterfly keyboards last year.

While not confirmed by Apple, iFixit theorizes that the new keyboard's newfound quietness is merely a side effect of the membranes real purpose, to keep debris out of the keys.

When Apple launched the latest MacBook Pros earlier this week, there was a lot of debate as to whether the updated, third-generation butterfly keyboard had fixed the criticized failure problem that has spawned multiple lawsuits against the tech giant. Though it says problems are relegated to a small percentage of MacBook owners, Apple last month initiated a service program for those with affected machines.

The immediate assumption, was that no, the newly designed keys did not nullify key failures. Indeed, in comments to certain media outlets, Apple said the revamped keys are not intended to improve reliability.

Digging deeper, a patent issued to Apple seems to confirm that theory. The patent describes the exact protectant film we see in the new keyboards and is described as to "prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress."

Apple keyboard patent
Source: USPTO


Fixing MacBook's keyboard is a big deal for Apple, and one it most definitely wants to address. Explaining the company's dismissive statements is a separate issue altogether. With so many lawsuits currently pending, it can be speculated that Apple is hesitant to admit that the new design "fixes" a keyboard problem it never necessarily deemed "defective" in the first place.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 62
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,701member
    It was my first thought when Apple announced a "quieter" keyboard.  Something was dampening the noise, now you have it.

    Honestly, silicone keyboard covers (the ugly ones that go over a keyboard) and been around forever.  It did not take a rocket scientist to decide to put it under the keyboard.

    I'm actually a little bit upset at Apple not including the membrane on the 2016-2017 MBP's.  It's not even a hindsight issue, but quite obvious that junk does get under the keyboard.

    Well, I guess that will quiet the folks.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 2 of 62
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,194member
    Did Apple use this silicon membrane on previous (non-butterfly) versions of their laptop keyboards?
  • Reply 3 of 62
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    "We put it in to make the keys quieter. If it also blocks particulate matter, weeeell we can't be responsible for that." *Looks over shoulder at lawyer, gets nod*
    cecil4444avon b7Avieshekdirecthackerlamboaudi4irelandbdkennedy10021983muthuk_vanalingammuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 4 of 62
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,694member
    Wonder if replacement keyboards for 2016 and 2017 MBPs will have this feature.  I've got a 2017 15" MBP that (fingers crossed) has not had any keyboard issues yet.  Well, no issues other than my age starting to create more typos in my typing.
  • Reply 5 of 62
    Something like a "quieter keyboard" is not the calibre of feature that apple would usually advertise - it's there as a dog whistle to tell certain customers that Apple have changed the keyboard design. They are signalling this because they recognise that people are having trouble with the current design and specifically needed to call out that changes have been made. 

    Apple are not going to specifically advertise that the new keyboard design addresses the dust/crumb issue.
    randominternetpersonAvieshek1983dws-2pscooter63
  • Reply 6 of 62
    Hopefully there won't be an excess heat issue with potentially less ventilation through the keyboard, plus the larger battery.
    williamlondonKITAwelshdog
  • Reply 7 of 62

    Fixing MacBook's keyboard is a big deal for Apple, and one it most definitely wants to address. Explaining the company's dismissive statements is a separate issue altogether. With so many lawsuits currently pending, it can be speculated that Apple is hesitant to admit that the new design "fixes" a keyboard problem it never necessarily deemed "defective" in the first place.
    LOL.  I love how the link to "so many" lawsuits is about "a second" suit.

    I'm sorry, but this keyboard thing has always been overblown.  Sure Apple wants to improve their products when problems are identified, but a very small percentage of MacBooks had any problems at all.
    tmaylamboaudi4pscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 62
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 665member
    Did Apple use this silicon membrane on previous (non-butterfly) versions of their laptop keyboards?
    It’s rubber dome.
    Avieshek
  • Reply 9 of 62
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 665member
    Hopefully this time we can finally get something that just works.  I actually like the new mechanism mainly because it’s unique.  Most laptops shipped with rubber dome since they’re cheaper & easier to produce, but a full “mechanical” keyboards will always lasts longer.  The butterfly keyboards shouldn’t be an exception.

    That being said, i think it will definitely not as rugged as the rubber dome, because simpler parts have less failure, even if the third-generation fixed all the “dust” issues.  But that doesn’t mean it will not work most of the time, though (In fact, it’s not that complex compared to many other “mechanical” switches).
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 10 of 62
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 4,204member
    This at least would appear to clear up one part of the mystery. It is a design issue.

    I suppose Apple will push for out of court settlements to avoid being pressed for disclosure of the reports on particle accumulation testing (because it isn't reasonable to assume no such reports exist) and to why the membrane wasn't included on the first and second generation keyboards (assuming the patent pre-dates the release of the first generation model).

    Hopefully these new keyboards can be fitted to older machines when the first and second generation keyboards need replacing.
    muthuk_vanalingamcgWerksaylk
  • Reply 11 of 62
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,229moderator
    DuhSesame said:
    That being said, i think it will definitely not as rugged as the rubber dome, because simpler parts have less failure, even if the third-generation fixed all the “dust” issues.  But that doesn’t mean it will not work most of the time, though (In fact, it’s not that complex compared to many other “mechanical” switches).
    They couldn't keep using the rubber dome if they wanted to have a thinner profile, more stable keys and uniform backlighting and if both designs serve the useful life of a computer of about 8 years then they do the job just fine. Apple will have the failure data and make corrections to minimize them. iFixit tested the old one before and here the key got jammed with a grain of sand in the lower right corner:



    Here, they blow sand over the updated keyboard and the sand grains are blocked from getting in:



    No mechanical parts will be completely impervious to failure but this looks like it will do a pretty good job of improving the reliability and the key cushioning is a benefit too. If older models are brought in for repair, they could easily switch them out for the updated ones with the membrane.

    They could update the design in future with more easily removable keys and if they can get rid of the switch and put a mechanism in the hinge, that could increase the travel by removing some of the base plate or they could make the keys like the trackpad with small feedback units so you can do a harder press on a key and it can insert accented characters or capitals or the alt-character for the number keys and they can put any kind of cushioning under the key. They could reduce the key travel even more, the comfort is more about sponginess of the press. Old mobile devices used rubber keys and were very comfortable to type on due to the softness of the rubber. A hard key with a soft fixed base would probably be ok to type on and easily replaced.
    kayessJWSCtmaylamboaudi4dws-2irelandcgWerkspscooter63cornchip
  • Reply 12 of 62
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 665member
    Marvin said:
    DuhSesame said:
    That being said, i think it will definitely not as rugged as the rubber dome, because simpler parts have less failure, even if the third-generation fixed all the “dust” issues.  But that doesn’t mean it will not work most of the time, though (In fact, it’s not that complex compared to many other “mechanical” switches).
    They couldn't keep using the rubber dome if they wanted to have a thinner profile, more stable keys and uniform backlighting and if both designs serve the useful life of a computer of about 8 years then they do the job just fine. Apple will have the failure data and make corrections to minimize them. iFixit tested the old one before and here the key got jammed with a grain of sand in the lower right corner:



    Here, they blow sand over the updated keyboard and the sand grains are blocked from getting in:



    No mechanical parts will be completely impervious to failure but this looks like it will do a pretty good job of improving the reliability and the key cushioning is a benefit too. If older models are brought in for repair, they could easily switch them out for the updated ones with the membrane.

    They could update the design in future with more easily removable keys and if they can get rid of the switch and put a mechanism in the hinge, that could increase the travel by removing some of the base plate or they could make the keys like the trackpad with small feedback units so you can do a harder press on a key and it can insert accented characters or capitals or the alt-character for the number keys and they can put any kind of cushioning under the key. They could reduce the key travel even more, the comfort is more about sponginess of the press. Old mobile devices used rubber keys and were very comfortable to type on due to the softness of the rubber. A hard key with a soft fixed base would probably be ok to type on and easily replaced.
    It’s kinda surprising that you can fix most the problem by simply adding a layer of silicon.

    No doubt the lifespan will be much longer than rubber dome, I’m just saying that simpler design are less prone to failure, even though I fully support the new key design.  Most cherry keyboard are prone to liquid damage, and that didn’t stop the one who loves it.

    I also think the new mechaism (after second generation) is highly inspired by all the buttons you’d found in iDevices, check out how much similarities between the keys and a volume control.  The feedback are pretty strong for something this thin (that being said, I think the term “feedback” are very subjective, and only the majority will give the direction on where it should go).
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 13 of 62
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,883administrator
    welshdog said:
    Wonder if replacement keyboards for 2016 and 2017 MBPs will have this feature.  I've got a 2017 15" MBP that (fingers crossed) has not had any keyboard issues yet.  Well, no issues other than my age starting to create more typos in my typing.
    They do not at present.
    welshdogcgWerks
  • Reply 14 of 62
    Hopefully there won't be an excess heat issue with potentially less ventilation through the keyboard, plus the larger battery.
    That’s a very good comment since the air flow through the keyboard has previously been mentioned by Apple as a contributing factor to heat dissipation.
    williamlondoncgWerksaylkminicoffee
  • Reply 15 of 62
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 5,147member
    At a replacement cost greater than the total cost of the average new laptop, these keyboards better be bullet proof.

    If you want bleeding edge technology:  thinner, lighter, brighter, etc...   be prepared to pay...  A lot.
    ...  I'll stick with my nearly bullet proof Lenovo Thinkpad.  And, in the rare case where the keyboard breaks, I'll buy a new one for $40 and replace it myself in about 10 minutes.

    That's not to say the Lenovo is better than the MacBook (or vice-versa).  The analogy might to compare a Corvette to a Silverado.  Each meets a different set of needs and priorities.
    ... But, I do wish Apple would open up the Mac line to more average users who neither need the highest of high tech and neither do they want to pay for it.
    cgWerkstyler82aylk
  • Reply 16 of 62
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 665member
    Hopefully there won't be an excess heat issue with potentially less ventilation through the keyboard, plus the larger battery.
    That’s a very good comment since the air flow through the keyboard has previously been mentioned by Apple as a contributing factor to heat dissipation.
    The heat dissipation mainly goes from the side & the center of your hinge, and the airflow from the gaps of keyboard are insignificant at best.  When did they ever said that?
  • Reply 17 of 62
    henrybayhenrybay Posts: 106member

    Overheard inside Apple a few months ago:*

    ‘Hey boss, were getting a lot of negative publicity about the MacBook keyboard problems, a few lawsuits, and even a petition calling for a recall.’

    ‘Can we fix it in time for the next MacBook update?’

    ‘No, because that would require a complete reengineering of the butterfly mechanism.’

    ‘We can’t delay this launch – we haven’t updated the MacBooks in ages.’

    ‘We could do a temporary fix by applying a silicone membrane to stop the dust getting in. This would also make the keyboard quieter.’

    ‘Good idea. Let’s do it.’

    ‘The only problem is that this might cause a heat issue because the membrane will reduce ventilation, and it won’t fix the other problems.’

    ‘What other problems?’

    ‘Lack of ports, no escape key and insufficient keyboard travel…’

    ‘Ignore all that stuff. People’s fingers will adjust to the keyboard – and if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t type so much.’

    ‘But…’

    ‘No buts! Apple’s strategic priority is to create thin-ness, even if this means sacrificing functionality. We will not create fat products, only thin ones. Remember what Wallace Simpson said, “You can never be too thin”.’

    ‘I don’t think she was referring to laptops.’

    ‘Doesn’t matter. She uttered an eternal truth that we must uphold.’

    *Imaginary conversation

     

    avon b7aylk
  • Reply 18 of 62
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,160member
    Re: “It’s kinda surprising that you can fix most the problem by simply adding a layer of silicon.”

    Really? Ever heard of the Challenger space shuttle? Gaskets, seals, and similar parts can have a massive impact on system integrity. 
  • Reply 19 of 62
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 665member
    dewme said:
    Re: “It’s kinda surprising that you can fix most the problem by simply adding a layer of silicon.”

    Really? Ever heard of the Challenger space shuttle? Gaskets, seals, and similar parts can have a massive impact on system integrity. 
    Not if everyone starts to panic about it.
  • Reply 20 of 62
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,179member
    Anyone who had a shred of common sense suspected this. Makes the previous AI kneejerk piece looks pretty idiotic now. 
    backstabpscooter63randominternetperson
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