Apple's apology for small amount of 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard failures still isn't enough

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited March 27
Issues with Apple's butterfly keyboard mechanism are again popping to the forefront, after a high-profile account in the Wall Street Journal about a failure in a 2018 model, and it is past time that Apple be more forceful about the issue.

A current MacBook Pro keyboard
A current MacBook Pro keyboard


The butterfly key switch in the MacBook has a history of reliability concerns from users ever since its introduction, which has resulted in a considerable rise in repair requests compared to models with older mechanisms. AppleInsider found out in April 2018 the failure rates were double that of previous mechanisms, indicating there likely will be issues with the design until Apple rethinks how it is implemented.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal by Joanna Stern, an incident of sticking keys prompted an exploration of the history of Apple keyboard issues, before drilling down to the core of the issue. Apple's butterfly mechanism is designed to have a small amount of "travel," the distance the key moves up and down when pressed, and that dust or other debris could gum up the mechanism to stop it from working.

The article notes Apple's addition of an "elastic membrane" to the mechanism to make the keys quieter and to "prevent stuff from getting inside it." While Apple has previously advised the third-generation keyboard is quieter, it did not extend improvements to reliability, with "no new engineering or tweaks" made to the mechanism.

Independent testing of the membrane has also put the suggestion the membrane would fix reliability flaws to rest. While small amounts of fine dust could be pushed to the edges, keeping the mechanism clear, increased levels of dust results in ingress through the layer and jamming the mechanism as before.

Apple has tended to avoid providing any assurances of improvements made to its keyboards, or the issue as a whole, typically offering responses stating it affects "a very small percentage of customers" and general statements relating to future enhancements.

Apple issued an apologetic statement to Stern and that small number of affected users, similar to what it has done in the past.

Failure sticks around

We've been tracking the keyboard failure rates since 2016, and gone back to get the same data ranging all the way back to the 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Overall, the total number of service calls is lower for both the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro in their first years of service, versus the older models, even including the keyboard failures -- and not including Retina display coating de-lamination.

Given that the volumes of MacBook Pros sold per year over the range of the product line are static, this still points to a more reliable computer overall -- which is good considering that there are no user-replaceable parts.

We're not going to delve into the numbers today, but we will be talking about them more in April in a larger piece about the ridiculously named whatever-gates that pop up from time to time. However, as a preview of that examination, as we've collected more data, the keyboard failure percentages for the 2016 and 2017 are unchanged from the first year and beyond, and there has been no surge of people seeking repair after the repair program launched.

The 2018 model has a smaller data set, but the failure rate on the keyboards is lower than the 2016, and about the same as it was on the 2017, even with the membrane in question added for a more silent typing experience. This emphasizes Apple's previous statement on the matter, that the membrane was more for a quieter typing experience than anything else.

Since the MacBook Pro 2017 launched, the repair service data is very clear that the keyboards were different from a reliability standpoint, beyond any membrane on the later 2018. They certainly are on the outside, from a marking perspective, with the symbols on the control and option keys differing from previous.

Some of this issue remains a perception one, exacerbated by the Apple echo chamber which will be fired up again by Stern's report. Apple's "small percentage of users" afflicted by the problem still adds up to tens of thousands of complaints and service calls, and this is a loud group, as it should be. This is then amplified by social media -- which is the main reason why we collected the hard data in the first place, to see if there was actually an issue worth discussing.

It turns out there was a problem, and is still worth discussing. And, it is still one worthy of a repair program, and we'd like to see it extended to the 2018 keyboard as well. What it is not, though, is something that will impact every user of the machine, everywhere.

Again and still, from a user perspective, AppleInsider recommends that if you've got the problem in the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro, go get it fixed. If you've got it in your 2018, you're still under warranty.

Otherwise, let's hope that the repair program for the keyboard gets extended.
XrayX
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 79
    tokyojimutokyojimu Posts: 420member
    I've been having keyboard problems on my 2017 MacBook. But the repair means doing without your computer for a week as they send it out for repair, and so I haven't reported my problems yet. I wonder how many others might be in my position, artificially deflating the number of users affected.
    MplsPmuthuk_vanalingamCarnageboredumb
  • Reply 2 of 79
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,193member
    Here’s what John Gruber wrote this morning. Ouch. We know Apple employee read his site. Apple should stop doubling down on a keyboard it appears many Mac users don’t care for. It does hurt brand reputation.

    https://daringfireball.net/linked/2019/03/27/strn-kyboard Devastating column from Joanna Stern on the continuing saga of the unreliable keyboards in Apple’s MacBook lineup. I consider these keyboards the worst products in Apple history. MacBooks should have the best keyboards in the industry; instead they’re the worst. They’re doing lasting harm to the reputation of the MacBook brand.
    edited March 27 MplsPanantksundaramboredumb
  • Reply 3 of 79
    It is just so unfortunate that Apple keeps hanging onto this design generation, as it made me switch to a Surface Pro from a Macbook Air 2013 a few moths ago. This while I really liked the Macbook Air with absolutely no problems in the 5 years I used it. This generation for me personally just brings to many compromises (keyboard, ports and choice between an up-to-date processor or a function row), and with an large price increase made me look at other options. Hope the new generation improves the situation.
    Carnageboredumb
  • Reply 4 of 79
    Wow, what a critical and hard-hitting piece of journalism.

    What I got from that is a small percentage of people who have recent MacBooks end up with keyboard problems, and those users should "go get it fixed."

    Oh, and also, the small percentage of users who had problems with keyboards before 2016 was (perhaps) half the size.

    And, for some reason Apple should "apologize" for not creating perfect, faultless devices.

    Shrug.  I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I love it and am in the "large percentage" of users without a problem.
    lkruppHenryDJPfastasleepStrangeDaystht
  • Reply 5 of 79
    tokyojimu said:
    I've been having keyboard problems on my 2017 MacBook. But the repair means doing without your computer for a week as they send it out for repair, and so I haven't reported my problems yet. I wonder how many others might be in my position, artificially deflating the number of users affected.
    Me too. I keep “beating” debris out of the keys rather than taking it in, so mine doesn’t show up in Apple’s failure data either. Some keys are starting to wear out though, so it won’t be long before I’m forced to take it in. 
    MplsPmuthuk_vanalingamboredumb
  • Reply 6 of 79
    kkqd1337kkqd1337 Posts: 219member
    what makes users so irate about these problems is when Apple refuse to maintain anything other than a positive narrative about their products.

    it's incredibly annoying to see Apple stand on stage and harp on about how much they love their customers, and especially 'loyal' customers, and then they won't give you the basic dignity of being honest with you after handing over thousands of dollars.
    elijahgcolinngchemenginbeowulfschmidtboredumbtokyojimu
  • Reply 7 of 79
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 1,006member
    This is one of once rare occasions that Apple's idea of what customers should want is wrong. It doesn't happen often, but eventually they have to about-turn. It happened with the Mac Pro and Final Cut too. As with many Apple products, they were adamant that the butterfly keyboards were superior out of the gate. Critics as usual were immediately slating them without using them. Customers seemed fairly indifferent, not seeing anything wrong with the old or anything particularly improved with the new. But as problems grew, the indifference has turned to anger, and is now damaging the reputation of the MacBooks. The new mechanism isn't really liked, so why keep pushing a flawed design? They need to stop being so stubborn and rethink it. The Titanium PowerBook G4 had faulty hinges, and Apple rethought the design completely. 

    Again in the desire for excessive thinness, Apple has compromised a design. I certainly wouldn't get a Mac with a butterfly keyboard, and I'm disappointed the new iMacs have them. 
    edited March 27 anantksundaram
  • Reply 8 of 79
    I wonder if Apple realize this takes the MacBook Pro out of contention until the keyboard is fixed.  I mean, seriously, a 6-core i9 and you can't get the keyboard right?  
  • Reply 9 of 79

    I own both a 2016 MB 12” and a 2017 MB Pro 15” and both computers are plagued with frequent keyboard problems. I keep a case of canned air around to keep the keyboards working. I waste time every day cleaning the keyboards. It is a pain. 

    I’m a novelist and spend all day everyday typing on my notebooks. As a professional keyboard user, these keyboards are the worse keyboards I have ever used. I own a couple of 2013 era Apple MB Pros which have the best keyboards I’ve ever used. So I know Apple knows how to make a great keyboard. 

    Apple needs to take ownership of this problem and resolve it. Every computer does not have to be so thin, so anorexic that it no longer serves its purpose well. Anorexia is not sexy, it is unhealthy. I am heartbroken that Apple seems to be going down the path of selling slick over “it just works.” The entire reason I gave up on MS computers and went to Apple in 2011 was to save all the time I was losing to computer updates and upkeep. In my opinion, Apple is still better than MS, but not for long.

    This MB keyboard fiasco is not a small inconsequential problem to those who experience it. There is a recall petition with over 35,680 signatures https://www.change.org/p/apple-apple-recall-macbook-pro-w-defective-keyboard-replace-with-different-working-keyboard

    Carnage
  • Reply 10 of 79
    sreesree Posts: 110member
    Wow, what a critical and hard-hitting piece of journalism.

    What I got from that is a small percentage of people who have recent MacBooks end up with keyboard problems, and those users should "go get it fixed."

    Oh, and also, the small percentage of users who had problems with keyboards before 2016 was (perhaps) half the size.

    And, for some reason Apple should "apologize" for not creating perfect, faultless devices.

    Shrug.  I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I love it and am in the "large percentage" of users without a problem.
    Sorry dude, I am as much of an apple user as you can find, but the butterfly keyboard issue is just nonsense. Every person I know who bought a mac laptop in the last 2-3yrs had to get it replaced due to the keyboard. just last month, my friend got the new macbook air, and in one week the character 't' started misbehaving. Either he would get 'tt' or none at all about 30% of the time. Luckily it happened before the warranty ran out, so they replaced the laptop. He has his fingers crossed now.

    This is the third generation of the butterfly keyboard, and it is still failing in all the same ways. As engineers we usually call something like that a faulty architecture. Apple needs to change it, but are unable to do so I think due to the thickness with old keyboards.

    Infact I am holding out on upgrading my pre-butterfly keyboard macbook pro, until apple fixes this issue once and for all. 
    The best keyboards currently out there are on lenovo laptops, and that is not something I am happy about and neither should apple be.
    elijahgmuthuk_vanalingamanantksundaramchemenginCarnageboredumb
  • Reply 11 of 79
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 666member
    Retina display coating de-lamination… ridiculously named whatever-gates that pop up from time to time.
    Yup, on top of all the keyboard BS I’m getting “staingate” on my 2016 MBP too… why is this chronic with Macbooks but completely unheard of on iPads, anyway?

    Looking forward to the report.
    elijahgchemengin
  • Reply 12 of 79
    My keyboard was replaced Once on my 2015 MacBook retina, but I had problem so many time.

    if Apple only count keyboard replacement, it Does not reflect the size of the problem

    i switch to a MacBook retina 2017 and same story. Every once in a while, a key or more stop working then it come back after a few hour 

    I am retired but would definitely not be working all day with a keyboard like that.


  • Reply 13 of 79
    tokyojimutokyojimu Posts: 420member
    Shrug.  I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I love it and am in the "large percentage" of users without a problem.
    I felt as you do... until the day mine started having problems too.
    MplsPchemenginCarnageboredumb
  • Reply 14 of 79
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,156member
    I'm curious about how you are compiling failure rates and causality metrics for an Apple product. Does Apple make that data available to AppleInsider? I've found that companies, at least those in unregulated industries, keep that data pretty close to the vest. I've also seen that when there is public backlash about a product "anomaly" there is typically a hell of a lot of scrambling going on within the company to fix the proble, including a senior VP actively breathing down the necks of all of the various engineering and product teams from component sourcing to design to industrialization to reliability to environmental testing. If this truly has reputation damaging potential you can be assured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, i.e., a major shit-storm is a-happenin'. Would Apple providing more public visibility into the shit-storm in-process happening behind the scenes inside Apple be "enough" to make you think that they are taking this very seriously? The membrane was a cheap prophylactic treatment but it was still just damage control and obviously not the fix they needed.

    I do have empathy for the people who are working on this problem with little recognition or appreciation because they are behind the "everything is cool" facade being projected at the executive level. However, iff this is truly an environmental issue that could have been detected during testing, say within an environment containing a continuous cloud of Cheeto dust and with periodic dousing with full strength sugary Mountain Dew, I would be disappointed that Apple's product quality loop is not considering a broad enough number and types of customer application scenarios. In other words, if their testers are wearing white gloves, they should be forced to take them off and have their knuckles whacked with a ruler by my grade school principal.  
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 15 of 79
    LatkoLatko Posts: 398member
    Cannot innovate my ass - but will do it anyway
  • Reply 16 of 79
    LatkoLatko Posts: 398member
    Wow, what a critical and hard-hitting piece of journalism.
    ......
    Shrug.  I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I love it and am in the "large percentage" of users without a problem.
    Now that’s great news.
    And to get relevant to the matter, you’re gonna borrow it to someone affected ?
    edited March 27 MplsP
  • Reply 17 of 79
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,874administrator
    dewme said:
    I'm curious about how you are compiling failure rates and causality metrics for an Apple product. Does Apple make that data available to AppleInsider? I've found that companies, at least those in unregulated industries, keep that data pretty close to the vest. I've also seen that when there is public backlash about a product "anomaly" there is typically a hell of a lot of scrambling going on within the company to fix the proble, including a senior VP actively breathing down the necks of all of the various engineering and product teams from component sourcing to design to industrialization to reliability to environmental testing. If this truly has reputation damaging potential you can be assured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, i.e., a major shit-storm is a-happenin'. Would Apple providing more public visibility into the shit-storm in-process happening behind the scenes inside Apple be "enough" to make you think that they are taking this very seriously? The membrane was a cheap prophylactic treatment but it was still just damage control and obviously not the fix they needed.

    I do have empathy for the people who are working on this problem with little recognition or appreciation because they are behind the "everything is cool" facade being projected at the executive level. However, iff this is truly an environmental issue that could have been detected during testing, say within an environment containing a continuous cloud of Cheeto dust and with periodic dousing with full strength sugary Mountain Dew, I would be disappointed that Apple's product quality loop is not considering a broad enough number and types of customer application scenarios. In other words, if their testers are wearing white gloves, they should be forced to take them off and have their knuckles whacked with a ruler by my grade school principal.  
    Several of us passed through assorted Apple service vendors, and between us all, we know a great many people and how the system works in excruciating detail. While we don't have access to Apple's entire database, we are collecting real-time stats on what over 35 apple authorized shop and some genius bars get in for repair, and have seen over the last decade, plus (but admittedly, we haven't really entered data pre-2012 in our own systems yet for collation).

    Apple itself on a corporate level isn't cooperating in any way.
    edited March 27 dewmemuthuk_vanalingamanantksundaram1STnTENDERBITScolinng
  • Reply 18 of 79
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,577member
    Wow, what a critical and hard-hitting piece of journalism.

    What I got from that is a small percentage of people who have recent MacBooks end up with keyboard problems, and those users should "go get it fixed."

    Oh, and also, the small percentage of users who had problems with keyboards before 2016 was (perhaps) half the size.

    And, for some reason Apple should "apologize" for not creating perfect, faultless devices.

    Shrug.  I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I love it and am in the "large percentage" of users without a problem.
    I had my 2016 15-inch MBP's entire top case replaced last year because of one key failing. I haven't had any problems since, but I use my notebook hooked up to a bluetooth Apple keyboard 75% of the time.
    boredumb
  • Reply 19 of 79
    So what happened to the butterfly keyboard lawsuits? There seem to be a rather large number of crickets chirping with those. Not much appears to be happening. Any ideas? Perhaps it's harder to make a case in a court of law than on the internet? 
  • Reply 20 of 79
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,874administrator
    So what happened to the butterfly keyboard lawsuits? There seem to be a rather large number of crickets chirping with those. Not much appears to be happening. Any ideas? Perhaps it's harder to make a case in a court of law than on the internet? 
    Given court lead times, none of them really have progressed yet.
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