Tested: Apple's updated 2019 MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited May 25
Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard. We put the new updated third-generation keyboard to the test to see how the sound, type, and feel compared to the previous generation and break down exactly what Apple has changed that makes a difference for users day-to-day.

2019 MacBook Pro
2019 MacBook Pro

What's changed

Apple has remained mum surrounding these changes so we are left with third-party analysis on what they specifically are. In traditional fashion, iFixit was one of the first with an in-depth breakdown of these keys and reporting what they found. The whole mechanism has remained the same with two notable changes.






First is the metal dome switch, the part that actually makes the clicking feeling when you press down on a key cap. They have slightly different appearances on the outside which could be something as minor as switching manufacturers or it could be a new heat treatment as iFixit has theorized.

Should this dome be damaged, a key would start to act erratically or not at all.

2018 key membrane (left) & 2019 key membrane (right)
2018 key membrane (left) & 2019 key membrane (right)


Secondly, there's the gasket that sits within the switch and focuses the pressure from a keypress centrally onto the dome switch. In all previous generations, this material was semi-opaque and had the soft, tacky feel of silicone. The updated switch design has a more translucent membrane, with a material shift to a form of nylon.

In speaking to material scientists, and other hardware engineers, we suspect that the tackiness of the silicone in the 2018 keyboard may cause debris to stick in place, similar to how pocket lint adheres to the outside of an iPhone case made out of similar material. By switching to nylon, which does have a higher propensity for static, dust may not stick in-place as easily as before.

But, the clearances between materials are the same. The overall design of the key, the butterfly mechanism, and the contacts are the same. At present, it appears that the change may make it easier for Apple to perform maintenance in-store, and may cut down on total replacements of the upper case, which includes the speakers, the keyboard, the battery, and the case metal.

If the changes helps to keep customers out of the Genius Bars remains to be seen.

Look, sound, and feel

From the outside, the new MacBook Pro keyboards look identical to their 2018 counterparts. With those changes on the inside, we were curious about how they would change the typing feel or sound of they keyboard.

We pulled out our 2018 MacBook Air which has the original third generation keyboard design -- complete with silicone barrier -- as the 2018 MacBook Pros and typed the same phrase on each to see how they felt and sound.

2019 MacBook Pro
2019 MacBook Pro


Largely, there was no difference. You can hear in the video for yourself but the newer model has a slightly lower pitch than the MacBook Air. This is partially due to the difference in density and weight of the two machines and there was no change in the actual clickiness or overall sound.

If anything, the new keyboard was slightly softer to type on which could be attributed to either of the two material changes outlined above, or even just a new keyboard with several hundred thousand fewer words on it.

If you were comfortable and happy typing on the previous butterfly keyboards, you will feel at home here.

Is it more reliable?

Apple seems to be tackling the perceived problems with its keyboard design head-on, but it's not clear what the changes are actually going to do. They've expanded their repair program to now include the 2018 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air and are actively touting the new keyboards as having improved reliability.

AppleInsider's own research has shown how small of an issue the keyboard problem really is, (though it is above the previous design's average) and if Apple really did improve the reliability here then the number should fall even further. We'll be speaking more about this in about six months, as we collect the data.

We will know over time if Apple's new keyboards are any more reliable than before but at the moment all we can say is the sound, type, and perform the same and that there were, in fact, subtle changes in materials.

Where to buy

If you want to grab a new MacBook Pro which are showing some seriously impressive performance gains over last year's models, you can pick them up now, with select models up to $200 off.

$150 off 2019 13" MacBook Pros $200 off 2019 15" MacBook Pros
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member

    AppleInsider's own research has shown how small of an issue the keyboard problem really is, (though it is above the previous design's average) and if Apple really did improve the reliability here then the number should fall even further. We'll be speaking more about this in about six months, as we collect the data.

    Doesn’t really matter does it? The die has been cast, the tech blog posts are believed over hard facts, the negative Internet has decided this keyboard issue is gigantic and affects every single MacBook on the planet. Every MacBook owner is enraged, everyone is demanding Apple change the keyboard. When AI’s own research shows the issue is a small one it is to be dismissed as propaganda, AI is an Apple apologist, so goes the tripe.
    bb-15macpluspluschasmchiawilliamlondonRayz2016
  • Reply 2 of 36
    irelandireland Posts: 17,645member
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    boredumbzebrawilliamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 36
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,988member
    Don't make pre-mature judgement and jibber-jabber comment until jury(real users) of new MBP are out with verdict.
    chasm
  • Reply 4 of 36
    bb-15bb-15 Posts: 264member
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    Bringing up the iPhone 4 is a poor example & a straw-man. As Apple explained at the time the attenna had a similar performance compared with other phones by other manufacturers.
    Independent information to back this up;

    “1. Hold The Phone Such That You Do Not Block Its Internal Antenna.

    What if we told you that you’re simply holding your phone the wrong way? Gert Pedersen is a Professor at Aalborg University, and his research has shown that when you switch your mobile phone from one hand to the opposite hand, it can improve or worsen the signal. This occurs because built-in internal antenna of cell phones get blocked when using the right or left hand depending on the phone model. Therefore switch the hand holding the phone to your other hand, which could improve cell signal dramatically. Try it now to see the difference!”

    https://www.signalbooster.com/blogs/news/10-easy-tips-to-boost-your-cell-phone-signal-now

    All personal computing devices have a rate of failure. This is why computer repair has existed since the dawn of the PC.
    To determine whether a product is inferior, depends on its rating by customers compared with the competition.  

    - Apple has some of the highest rated smartphones. 

    http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/jd-power-2017-full-service-smartphone-satisfaction-study

    - Apple has some of the highest rated laptops/desktops. 

    http://www.theacsi.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=147&catid=&Itemid=212&i=Personal+Computers

    * The second straw-man is the claim that improvements in new tech prove that previous tech had a problem. All personal tech has been improved in every area compared with years past. And future tech will have improvements. 
    * Regarding the Apple MacBook Pro keyboards, it has been claimed that it is inferior to Windows laptop competition. But that is not the topic I am replying to. It is the straw-man claim about the iPhone 4 which I dispute.  
    edited May 25 williamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 36
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    As I said, it’s only a “failed” design on tech blogs. In the real world the keyboard works just fine for the vast majority. You are simply wrong in your opinion but I also know there is nothing that will change your mind no matter what, even of the repairs drop to zero. 
    macplusplusmwhiteandrewj5790macxpressnetmagechiawilliamlondonredgeminipapscooter63Rayz2016
  • Reply 6 of 36
    lucasevelucaseve Posts: 15member
    Those not-so-smart (after years not having understood what the problems are it means you either are such or acting like such...) people at Apple didn't understand yet that, aside the internal issues, the keys are too close each other.
    Doubling the space between them would make it working much better for many people...
  • Reply 7 of 36
    zebrazebra Posts: 35member
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    There is no doubt that the keys are closer together than my previous MacBook Pro 2015. I now type on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and make numerous typos caused by the over-tight keyboard. I'm not sure why Apple decided to do this. Just cut a larger section for more key space? It must be more involved than that -- I hope. Otherwise, it was just a lack of real life testing.
    irelandwilliamlondonGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 8 of 36
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,642member
    zebra said:
    There is no doubt that the keys are closer together than my previous MacBook Pro 2015. I now type on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and make numerous typos caused by the over-tight keyboard.
    Nope. The keys are physically larger than the keys on your 2015.

    PS. My experience on the MacBook/MBP post-2106 keyboards is that I actually make fewer typos, not more, because the keys are larger (I have biggish hands). Since I'm used to a "gentle touch" on my previous and present keyboards, I'm finding the 2016-later "very flat" keyboards to be just fine for me.

    The low travel hasn't been an issue for me even though I frequently switch between a MacBook keyboard and an old (pre-2016) MBP "chicklet" keyboard and a logitech K480 (quite the opposite of either of those keyboards) for my writing.
    edited May 25 chiawilliamlondoncaladanianredgeminipapscooter63Rayz2016
  • Reply 9 of 36
    irelandireland Posts: 17,645member
    zebra said:
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    There is no doubt that the keys are closer together than my previous MacBook Pro 2015. I now type on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and make numerous typos caused by the over-tight keyboard. I'm not sure why Apple decided to do this. Just cut a larger section for more key space? It must be more involved than that -- I hope. Otherwise, it was just a lack of real life testing.
    It’s bad design. Like the lack of key travel. Circular mouse. European plugs and headphone jacks without friction grips to push in and pull out of ports. Arrow keys for looks over function. Thinness for thinness sake, even at the expense of poor battery life. Apple are imperfect when it comes to design. We all know this. We should. Some of us give them a free pass, and some of us do not. Some companies such as Jason Fried’s have had over 50% of staff with keyboard issues. I never heard complaints like this for the old keyboard and neither did anyone else. As Gruber rightly points out, this keyboard is Apple’s biggest disaster *in their modern history. Still love Apple’s trackpads, but until we have a very reliable, awesomely tactile keyboard I’ll hold off on purchasing a Mac, and I recommend others do too. We should expect more and not settle. This keyboard should do down in history as a great business and design example of corporate arrogance and over-engineering.
    edited May 26 williamlondonelijahghenrybaybaconstang
  • Reply 10 of 36
    I find this article very premature. The new laptop has just been released but there is no way you can ‘test’ the keyboard. Dissect maybe, but not test.
    williamlondonireland
  • Reply 11 of 36
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,948member
    zebra said:
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    There is no doubt that the keys are closer together than my previous MacBook Pro 2015. I now type on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and make numerous typos caused by the over-tight keyboard. I'm not sure why Apple decided to do this. Just cut a larger section for more key space? It must be more involved than that -- I hope. Otherwise, it was just a lack of real life testing.
    I agree...
    Or possibly testing by the wrong group of people -- used to finger-peck typing on a virtual keyboard rather than a quality one with feel and travel for touch typing.

    But, for me, it's non-starter.  It rules out any MacBook with a butterfly keyboard.   I can make-do with the old style on the 2017 MacBook Air, but's that as far as I am willing to compromise.*

    * Although I might, at some point, decide to get one to use primarily as desktop device with a separate keyboard and mouse but that let's me travel with it on occasion.
    edited May 26
  • Reply 12 of 36
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,948member
    ireland said:
    zebra said:
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    There is no doubt that the keys are closer together than my previous MacBook Pro 2015. I now type on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and make numerous typos caused by the over-tight keyboard. I'm not sure why Apple decided to do this. Just cut a larger section for more key space? It must be more involved than that -- I hope. Otherwise, it was just a lack of real life testing.
    It’s bad design. Like the lack of key travel. Circular mouse. European plugs and headphone jacks without friction grips to push in and pull out of ports. Arrow keys for looks over function. Thinness for thinness sake, even at the expense of poor battery life. Apple are imperfect when it comes to design. We all know this. We should. Some of us give them a free pass, and some of us do not. Some companies such as Jason Fried’s have had over 50% of staff with keyboard issues. I never heard complaints like this for the old keyboard and neither did anyone else. As Gruber rightly points out, this keyboard is Apple’s biggest disaster *in their modern history. Still love Apple’s trackpads, but until we have a very reliable, awesomely tactile keyboard I’ll hold off on purchasing a Mac, and I recommend others do too. We should expect more and not settle. This keyboard should do down in history as a great business and design example of corporate arrogance and over-engineering.
    While I can't argue with your points, neither can I agree with your summation that it is "a bad design".

    It's like comparing a Stingray to a Mercedes sedan:   They are meant for different purposes and appeal to different groups.  

    The Stingray is small and sleek and does what it does very well -- just like the thin, light and sleek MacBooks.   But trying to take a trip in one with a family or stop at Lowes to pick up a new lawn mower just doesn't work well.

    Rather than call it a "bad design" I would call it a "limited design" targeted at those who are able and willing to put up with the compromises inherent in using as device that is first and formost 'thin, light and sleek'.

    For myself, those compromises are simply not worth it.
  • Reply 13 of 36
    javacowboyjavacowboy Posts: 818member
    Here's my speculation as to why Apple is so stubborn about keeping this keyboard form factor, despite all the heat they're getting for it:

    Either:
    • It's way cheaper to manufacture than the 2012 model MacBook Pro keyboard, such that is has a huge impact on their profit margins
    • They'd get more flack for the customers for the lack of thinnest (doubtful, because IMHO, the 2012 model was thin enough)
    • They're trying to train their customers to use virtual keyboards on a glass surface, and this, along with the TouchBar, is the first step

    I think it's the last one.  I think that one sucky part of Apple's laptop manufacturing is having to produce all kind of regional variants of models with different keyboards:

    • US English
    • UK English (yes, it is different)
    • German
    • French (AZERTY)
    • French Canadian

    It's especially bad when you consider the last one.  The French Canadian layout is unique among the world (it's QWERTY, unlike France's AZERTY, but with extra keys for accented characters), and I estimate that as little as 15-20% of the Canadian Mac using population uses it (confined to Quebec, with 20-20% of Canada's population), and that's probably overstating it.  At best, you're talking 100,000 people, but it's more likely in the tens of thousands.  Yet Apple needs to manufacture a special model of MacBook Pro just for them.

    I speculate that Apple is fed up with having to incur these operational costs seeing as iPhones and iPad just have a glass screen and virtual keyboard.

    If I'm right, Apple will have all its laptop users typing on glass within five years.

    Ugh!   :/
    edited May 26
  • Reply 14 of 36
    firelockfirelock Posts: 160member
    I know this is only anecdotal, but my daughter’s 2016 MacBook and my son’s 2017 MacBook Pro have both had no issues with their keyboards. My daughter in particular is a heavy keyboard user for both school work (she just graduated college) and personal. If this was a common issue I would have expected her’s to have failed just because of how hard she has used it over the years, carrying it in her backpack to classes all over campus, typing all of her papers on it, etc. My son is not as hard on his keyboard but he certainly uses it and has had no issues.

    I will say that I am personally not the biggest fan of the keyboard. I am a touch typist and have for many years thought the earlier generation of Apple keyboards had found the perfect combination of feel and usability. Not too much and not too little key travel. But while I don’t like them as much as previous keyboards, they are hardly unusable and are still much better than the vast majority of PC laptop keyboards. I certainly wouldn’t hold off buying a new Apple laptop over this issue.
    edited May 26 chiapscooter63
  • Reply 15 of 36
    majorslmajorsl Posts: 119unconfirmed, member
    lkrupp said:
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    As I said, it’s only a “failed” design on tech blogs. In the real world the keyboard works just fine for the vast majority. You are simply wrong in your opinion but I also know there is nothing that will change your mind no matter what, even of the repairs drop to zero. 
    On the other hand, there are plenty of posters here who wouldn't change their mind if that repair rate hit 100% and would probably say users are intentionally breaking their keyboards to make Apple look bad.
    elijahgirelandMplsP
  • Reply 16 of 36
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,121member
    One thing Apple has in its favor versus some other PC manufacturers is the fact that they maintain a much tighter supply and sourcing channel so there is much less variation between individual products of the same model. if you start poking around in product reviews on review sites and Amazon you'll see much wider variation in individual products of the same exact model from the same brand maker depending on which of the lowest-cost-supplier-this-week sources the brand owner went with in their latest build. I've seen articles that tout the superlative performance of a keyboard, say of a Lenovo notebook, but only if you can trace the manufacturer of the keyboard to a certain preferred supplier. This leads to aware customers having to cherry pick minute details of their purchases to ensure they get the preferred mix of components. This also occurs with non-PC products as well, and it always creates a sucky customer experience because they are now making decisions based on things they shouldn't have to be concerned with, and less aware customers are left rolling the dice. I'm sure Apple utilizes multiple sources for certain components, but they do try to do their best to shield customers from the variability that sometimes occurs. Apple will, and possibly has already, get the butterfly keyboard design into the reliability window it needs to be in, and every instance of every affected model will benefit from their data driven refinement effort.

    As many others have stated, some folks aren't going to be happy no matter what Apple does to mitigate issues and will always assume that Apple has nefarious and self serving intentions in everything they do. If you fall into this camp, why continue to torture yourself by remaining as a customer of Apple? If you're not a customer of Apple and just enjoy coming here to bitch about something where you are not a stakeholder, then perhaps you should consider buying a Chromebook, taking up a hobby or getting a girlfriend/boyfriend or a dog/cat/hamster and spending time doing something that inspires you. 
    pscooter63
  • Reply 17 of 36
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 987member
    lkrupp said:

    AppleInsider's own research has shown how small of an issue the keyboard problem really is, (though it is above the previous design's average) and if Apple really did improve the reliability here then the number should fall even further. We'll be speaking more about this in about six months, as we collect the data.

    Doesn’t really matter does it? The die has been cast, the tech blog posts are believed over hard facts, the negative Internet has decided this keyboard issue is gigantic and affects every single MacBook on the planet. Every MacBook owner is enraged, everyone is demanding Apple change the keyboard. When AI’s own research shows the issue is a small one it is to be dismissed as propaganda, AI is an Apple apologist, so goes the tripe.
    Part of the issue too is the entire top case and battery must be replaced if a single key fails. That's just ridiculous. The old model had a separate keyboard which could be replaced alone.
    ireland80s_Apple_GuyMplsPGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 18 of 36
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    elijahg said:
    lkrupp said:

    AppleInsider's own research has shown how small of an issue the keyboard problem really is, (though it is above the previous design's average) and if Apple really did improve the reliability here then the number should fall even further. We'll be speaking more about this in about six months, as we collect the data.

    Doesn’t really matter does it? The die has been cast, the tech blog posts are believed over hard facts, the negative Internet has decided this keyboard issue is gigantic and affects every single MacBook on the planet. Every MacBook owner is enraged, everyone is demanding Apple change the keyboard. When AI’s own research shows the issue is a small one it is to be dismissed as propaganda, AI is an Apple apologist, so goes the tripe.
    Part of the issue too is the entire top case and battery must be replaced if a single key fails. That's just ridiculous. The old model had a separate keyboard which could be replaced alone.
    Pre-2012, you're correct. The 2012 RMBP through 2015 had a similar replacement to the 2016, involving an "upper case" replacement including the battery.
    edited May 26
  • Reply 19 of 36
    1st1st Posts: 383member
    Material change is a major change.   Even though the appearance similar, just change the grade of the dome sheet would have different touch and feel upon use. IMHO. 
  • Reply 20 of 36
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member
    majorsl said:
    lkrupp said:
    ireland said:
    Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard
    A bit generous, no? Failed design and embarrassment, this keyboard is. It’s like with the iPhone 4, there was nothing wrong with the antenna, but 4s had a new antenna with another band to stop the non-problem.
    As I said, it’s only a “failed” design on tech blogs. In the real world the keyboard works just fine for the vast majority. You are simply wrong in your opinion but I also know there is nothing that will change your mind no matter what, even of the repairs drop to zero. 
    On the other hand, there are plenty of posters here who wouldn't change their mind if that repair rate hit 100% and would probably say users are intentionally breaking their keyboards to make Apple look bad.
    And that’s precisely why what’s posted on tech blogs should be taken with a big grain of salt. Tech blog comment sections are the number one source of disinformation, outright fabrication, and almost no confirmation or corroboration of claims. Not the tech blog articles mind you, the tech blog comment sections are the problem. Anonymous voices with no credibility whatsoever. Opinions expressed as unassailable facts. Claims of knowledge and experience with nothing to back it up with. Take the classic, “I’m a power user so...” Someone calling themselves a developer but never offering a sliver of evidence like an actual app they are selling. My son had a number of friends who paid their Android developer fee and then went around declaring they were Android developers without developing a single app.
    Rayz2016
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