Apple's Phil Schiller discusses 16-inch MacBook Pro keyboard design versus Butterfly

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 23

Despite the 16-inch MacBook Pro featuring an all-new Magic Keyboard, Apple executive Phil Schiller says that the controversial Butterfly keyboard will live on.

Apple's Phil Schiller introducing the 2015 MacBook Pro with Butterfly keyboard and Touch Bar
Apple's Phil Schiller introducing the 2015 MacBook Pro with Butterfly keyboard and Touch Bar
Phil Schiller

, Apple vice president of worldwide marketing, says that the Magic Keyboard in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro has been in development for some years. It's seen as a pro customer option at present, and it has been worked on alongside the iterations of the older Butterfly mechanism that has seen complaints.

"[The Butterfly keyboard] had some things it did really well," Schiller told CNET, "like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more flat and firm under your finger - some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that."

"We got sort of a mixed reaction," he continued. "We had some quality issues we had to work on. Over the years, we've been refining that keyboard... and a lot of people are much happier."

Nonetheless, he says that some of "the most passionate feedback about the keyboard" was from what he called Pro customers. Consequently, Apple decided to work on a new keyboard for the MacBook Pro.

"As we started to investigate specifically what pro users most wanted," he said, "a lot of times they would say, 'I want something like this Magic Keyboard, I love that keyboard.' And so the team has been working on this idea of taking that core technology... we're creating this new Magic Keyboard for our Pro notebooks."

Despite saying notebooks, plural, Schiller would not say whether the new keyboard would be coming to any machines other than the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

"I can't say today," he said. "We are continuing both keyboard designs."

Detail from the redesigned keyboard on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro (source: Apple)
Detail from the redesigned keyboard on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro (source: Apple)



Addressing other areas of concern with the Butterfly keyboard and its implementation, Schiller said that everything in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro has been rethought.

"Nothing got away without some scrutiny and discussion and debate," he said. "That includes the Touch Bar. There is a fairly large number of customers who use the Touch Bar and see great benefit in some of its features, but there were also some complaints. If I were to rank the complaints, No. 1 was customers who like a physical Escape key. It was just a hard adaptation for a lot of people."

"We decided that rather than just remove the Touch Bar and lose the benefits some people get," he continued, "we could instead add the Escape key."

So the Escape key is again a physical one instead of part of the Touch Bar display. There is also a larger gap between the Touch Bar and the rest of the keyboard.

"Since the X and Y of the MacBook Pro is a teeny bit larger -- up 2% -- we wanted to use some of that little bit of extra space between the top of the number of keys and the bottom of the Touch Bar," says Schiller, "because there was a minor complaint, I wouldn't say major, that some people accidentally would touch the Touch Bar when they meant to hit the number keys."

The keyboard replacement in the 16-inch MacBook Pro comes in response to three years of complaints about the butterfly keyboard first seen in the MacBook, and migrated to the MacBook Pro in 2016. User issues ranged from an unpleasant typing experience, to issues with reliability.

The 2016 MacBook Pro had the worst failure rates in the line. Apple made incremental changes in successive generations, accompanied with a repair extension program extending free repairs for impacted keyboards to four years past the first purchase of the device.

The new MacBook Pro is available to order now and costs from $2,399. It will be in stores starting on November 15.



Read on AppleInsider

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 33
    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    davgregavon b7anantksundaramMplsPhenrybay
  • Reply 2 of 33
    thttht Posts: 5,550member
    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Part of the design process is knowing what is better over what the users think is better. It’s a push-pull, but part of Apple’s magic is doing things outside user desires. Sometimes they really fail, sometimes they really succeed.

    If the butterfly keyboards didn’t have reliability issues, I think people would have gotten over the low key travel. The 2018 and 2019 models seem to have the same reliability as keyboards in the 2012 to 2015 3rd gen models. Looks like they took too long to get it reliable and veered to this new design.

    I like the Touch Bar, but they still need to refine it. My main complaint is it gets too hot on my 2018 MBP. Second too that is that it is not tall enough. I think it needs to be full key height. Third is probably not making it Force Touch. Too much of a one and done with the Touch Bar. They could have incrementally refined it just like the butterfly keys, but didn’t. There’s a lot of potential with something like this.

    Heck, forcing left-right symmetry on the Touch Bar was a bad idea. The virtual escape key could be twice as wide if the OLED stretch all the way to the left edge, but they cut it 1 Touch ID short so there was visual symmetry. To me, that was a big design mistake from the visual designer who won this design decision. The symmetry is dominated by rectangles made by the entire keyboard and the trackpad. Keeping that rectangle strong meant they should have stretched the OLED display all the way to the left.

    d_2philboogietmaySpamSandwichCloudTalkinh2pfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 33
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 1,039member
    I have not seen the problems reported with keyboards but I have avoided Apple keyboards for desktop use for some time now. Apple keyboards are unavoidable on laptops, but completely avoidable on my iPad Pro and desktop Macs.

    Tell Phil their is no substitute fro a physical power button or escape key. My only gripe with my iPad Pro is the crappy way they have it shut off.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 4 of 33
    I'm really surprised that they didn't expand on the keyboard details more and show a visual of how the updated key mechanism is designed.

    cornchip
  • Reply 5 of 33
    davgreg said:
    I have not seen the problems reported with keyboards but I have avoided Apple keyboards for desktop use for some time now. Apple keyboards are unavoidable on laptops, but completely avoidable on my iPad Pro and desktop Macs.

    Tell Phil their is no substitute fro a physical power button or escape key. My only gripe with my iPad Pro is the crappy way they have it shut off.

    Any USB or wireless keyboard will work with the MacBooks, too. Just makes it more difficult to use as a "lap" top.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 33
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 1,278member
    tht said:
    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Part of the design process is knowing what is better over what the users think is better. It’s a push-pull, but part of Apple’s magic is doing things outside user desires. Sometimes they really fail, sometimes they really succeed.

    If the butterfly keyboards didn’t have reliability issues, I think people would have gotten over the low key travel. The 2018 and 2019 models seem to have the same reliability as keyboards in the 2012 to 2015 3rd gen models. Looks like they took too long to get it reliable and veered to this new design.

    I like the Touch Bar, but they still need to refine it. My main complaint is it gets too hot on my 2018 MBP. Second too that is that it is not tall enough. I think it needs to be full key height. Third is probably not making it Force Touch. Too much of a one and done with the Touch Bar. They could have incrementally refined it just like the butterfly keys, but didn’t. There’s a lot of potential with something like this.

    Heck, forcing left-right symmetry on the Touch Bar was a bad idea. The virtual escape key could be twice as wide if the OLED stretch all the way to the left edge, but they cut it 1 Touch ID short so there was visual symmetry. To me, that was a big design mistake from the visual designer who won this design decision. The symmetry is dominated by rectangles made by the entire keyboard and the trackpad. Keeping that rectangle strong meant they should have stretched the OLED display all the way to the left.

    Symmetry?  The escape key is much wider than the Touch ID, not to mention the old virtual escape was constantly blocked by other buttons.
  • Reply 7 of 33
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 1,278member

    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Surprising you've turned 180 degrees, don't let your negative emotions taking over.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 33
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    I'm really surprised that they didn't expand on the keyboard details more and show a visual of how the updated key mechanism is designed.

    I'm not.

    I think Apple wants to put the old design as far away from people's minds as possible but they still have a majority of products out there with that keyboard. I have a feeling as  long as those products are available for sale they will never comment on them.
    CloudTalkinstompy
  • Reply 9 of 33
    The MAIN thing about the "Keyboard" are two things IMHO:

    1.  Some people just do a quick finger test and go "ewww!"  That's all, a quick stop at the Apple Store and "ewww, awful". They don't/didn't even buy a MBP with the keyboard and acclimate for 6 months.

    2.  Apple, like I said "I believe", is just preparing us for NO KEYBOARD, just a glass surface, like an iPad screen instead of a keyboard to "type/tap" on.  Thin, Thinner, Thinnest, and viola GONE!

    So I just have to say get over the whole thing and ADAPT

    Laters...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 33
    tht said:

    Part of the design process is knowing what is better over what the users think is better. It’s a push-pull, but part of Apple’s magic is doing things outside user desires. Sometimes they really fail, sometimes they really succeed.

    The first sentence of your statement sounds exactly like something Blizzard Activision said, which is what they did when users were asking about being able to play a Vanilla/Classic version of the game. "You think you do, but you don't". There is a certain arrogance to thinking you know better than people who use the product every day to extremes. Yes, I really do want a working laptop keyboard and yes I want it to have more normal key travel. How many people needed to complain, and how many repairs did they need to make before they finally changed it?

    Blizzard has since announced that Classic has seen the largest subscriber increase in history. I suspect this laptop will sell massively.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 33
    DuhSesame said:

    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Surprising you've turned 180 degrees, don't let your negative emotions taking over.
    Explain?

    Over the history of the company, their habit of developing in secret and not testing with outsiders has led to some really bad choices.
  • Reply 12 of 33
    normmnormm Posts: 653member
    DuhSesame said:
    Symmetry?  The escape key is much wider than the Touch ID, not to mention the old virtual escape was constantly blocked by other buttons.
    I just mapped the escape key onto caps lock on my MacBook Pro.  Not sure why this was an issue for people.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 33
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,966member
    normm said:
    DuhSesame said:
    Symmetry?  The escape key is much wider than the Touch ID, not to mention the old virtual escape was constantly blocked by other buttons.
    I just mapped the escape key onto caps lock on my MacBook Pro.  Not sure why this was an issue for people.

    Because some people use caps lock and it would confuse the heck out of a user who didn’t know it was remapped? Plus, the esc key is in the top left corner of every keyboard in the world, so if you move between different computers it can get really confusing. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 33
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,966member

    "[The Butterfly keyboard] had some things it did really well," Schiller told CNET, "like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more flat and firm under your finger - some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that."

    "We got sort of a mixed reaction," he continued. "We had some quality issues we had to work on. “
    That sure seems like corporate-speak for “the reliability sucked and people hated the keyboard!”

    It’s actually a pretty surprising statement/admission. It’s rare you even get that much from any company, let alone Apple. Good to know they got the message, though.
    SpamSandwichprismaticshenrybay
  • Reply 15 of 33
    MplsP said:

    "[The Butterfly keyboard] had some things it did really well," Schiller told CNET, "like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more flat and firm under your finger - some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that."

    "We got sort of a mixed reaction," he continued. "We had some quality issues we had to work on. “
    That sure seems like corporate-speak for “the reliability sucked and people hated the keyboard!”

    It’s actually a pretty surprising statement/admission. It’s rare you even get that much from any company, let alone Apple. Good to know they got the message, though.
    Meh it’s not the first time Apple admitted they got something wrong.  I think a lot of the Twitter/tech journalism chatter on this is wrong. They don’t have the backstory on the butterfly development process so they just revert to cliches like form over function (even though this laptop looks nearly identical to the one it’s replacing) or Apple’s obsession with thinness. This morning John Gruber tweeted that the buck stops with Jony Ive re: the butterfly keyboard. I’m not sure what he’s basing that on. Yes I’m sure the design team was involved with the laptop & keyboard design but so was hardware engineering and operations. And Phil Schiller was on stage announcing these things. I have a hard time believing Ive held a gun to everyone’s head and forced these keyboards out the door. Also one would assume it’s the product marketing department responsible for determining feature sets and gathering customer feedback. If the butterfly keyboard was that bad how come no one in product marketing told the design and engineering teams that it would never fly with pro customers?
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 33
    thttht Posts: 5,550member
    DuhSesame said:
    tht said:
    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Part of the design process is knowing what is better over what the users think is better. It’s a push-pull, but part of Apple’s magic is doing things outside user desires. Sometimes they really fail, sometimes they really succeed.

    If the butterfly keyboards didn’t have reliability issues, I think people would have gotten over the low key travel. The 2018 and 2019 models seem to have the same reliability as keyboards in the 2012 to 2015 3rd gen models. Looks like they took too long to get it reliable and veered to this new design.

    I like the Touch Bar, but they still need to refine it. My main complaint is it gets too hot on my 2018 MBP. Second too that is that it is not tall enough. I think it needs to be full key height. Third is probably not making it Force Touch. Too much of a one and done with the Touch Bar. They could have incrementally refined it just like the butterfly keys, but didn’t. There’s a lot of potential with something like this.

    Heck, forcing left-right symmetry on the Touch Bar was a bad idea. The virtual escape key could be twice as wide if the OLED stretch all the way to the left edge, but they cut it 1 Touch ID short so there was visual symmetry. To me, that was a big design mistake from the visual designer who won this design decision. The symmetry is dominated by rectangles made by the entire keyboard and the trackpad. Keeping that rectangle strong meant they should have stretched the OLED display all the way to the left.

    Symmetry?  The escape key is much wider than the Touch ID, not to mention the old virtual escape was constantly blocked by other buttons.
    No, that’s not the symmetry I’m talking about. Look at this image:


    I’m not talking about the virtual escape button itself (in my admittedly poorly written comment). I’m talking about the empty space to the left of the virtual escape key. Why do you think the OLED display doesn’t extend all the way into that empty space on the left?

    The only reason I can think of for that empty space is to preserve visual left-right symmetry in the Touch Bar because the Touch ID button is not lit and is plain black on the right side of the Touch Bar. They didn’t want Touch Bar to be asymmetric. Mind that touch layer extends to the left of the virtual escape button by about 0.25”, enabling you to touch to the left of the virtual escape key and still hit it. They should have just extended the OLED all the well to the left and made the virtual escape button 2x as wide.

    Also, still mysterious to me why there are sound effects. Maybe they could get the latency down or didn’t want to differentiate it would sliders, but the sound effect of touching a button would go a ways into telling the user they hit a button.
    fastasleepd_2
  • Reply 17 of 33
    It's unbelievable how Apple PR is desperately trying to hide its total failure when it comes to keyboards. I guess they don't want to deal with customers excercising their rights when it comes to components with design flaws.
    MplsP
  • Reply 18 of 33
    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).
    Mousen!
    SpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 33
    DuhSesame said:

    Apple’s insular design process does them no favors when it comes to things like keyboards and mice (mouses?).

    Better to get outside opinions from real-world users than to follow a design decision path to an expensive dead end.
    Surprising you've turned 180 degrees, don't let your negative emotions taking over.
    Explain?

    Over the history of the company, their habit of developing in secret and not testing with outsiders has led to some really bad choices.
    I couldn't agree more. The new 2106+ MBP -- I own the 2018 version -- is one of the worst designed products from Apple. Ever. Especially for what is cost. Don't get me started on why.

    For me, it ranks right up there with the AppleTV remote and the hockey-puck mouse. I will get rid of it, take my lumps, and move on to the new MBP. But I am going to wait a month or so and wait to hear what the actual user experience is, i.e., that it's a significant improvement (which shouldn't be too hard). Burnt once, twice shy.
    MplsPSpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 33
    MplsP said:

    "[The Butterfly keyboard] had some things it did really well," Schiller told CNET, "like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more flat and firm under your finger - some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that."

    "We got sort of a mixed reaction," he continued. "We had some quality issues we had to work on. “
    That sure seems like corporate-speak for “the reliability sucked and people hated the keyboard!”

    It’s actually a pretty surprising statement/admission. It’s rare you even get that much from any company, let alone Apple. Good to know they got the message, though.
    Did you even read what you quoted. Many, many people (myself included) really like the stability and travel of the butterfly keyboard and have never had a problem with it. Some people don’t like the feel of it, so Apple decided to address their complaints (without throwing out the baby with the bath water.)

    Personally, I find it odd that they shrunk the left and right arrow keys. Who was asking for that (although the AI video calls it out as an improvement)?  At least they didn’t copy Dell’s terrible design. The laptop I (have to) use at work has a half-sized page up above the left arrow (and page down above the right arrow). That is a bigger sin than anything Apple did with their keyboards. 
    watto_cobra
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