Apple’s hated butterfly keyboard is officially extinct

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Taking it out on your problematic MacBook butterfly keyboard will only make things worse.
The MacBook butterfly keyboard could be horribly frustrating. But now it’s gone. Mostly.
Photo illustration: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

MacBook buyers, your long nightmare is over. It’s now safe to buy a new Apple laptop without having to worry that someday the butterfly keyboard will jam up, rendering your computer useless without a significant repair. Monday’s release of a redesigned 13-inch MacBook Pro means every new laptop available through the Apple Store includes the more-reliable Magic Keyboard.

Still, Apple held onto the flawed design for too long. Anybody with a MacBook that uses the older design must live in fear of potentially jammed butterfly keys for years to come.

R.I.P.: Butterfly keyboard

As noted, the 13-inch MacBook Pro released on May 4 uses the Magic Keyboard. This uses a traditional scissor-switch mechanism, not the svelte alternative that proved so problematic.

The change in Apple keyboard designs started last fall with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It was the first macOS laptop without the untrustworthy butterfly keyboard in far too long. Apple continued its flight from the butterfly keyboard in March with the 2020 MacBook Air.

These revamps mean a shopper can visit the Mac page on Apple.com, secure in the knowledge that not a single notebook listed there harbors a butterfly keyboard.

There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead

However, while no recently released MacBooks use the flawed keyboard design, plenty of older units remain on sale. One need look no further than Apple’s own refurbished offerings to find one. And Apple isn’t the only company that offers Macs to the public. Best Buy, Amazon.com and many others also sell them. So there are any number of MacBooks sporting butterfly keyboards sitting on store shelves around the world.

Just keep in mind, the 16-inch MacBook Pro from late 2019, the MacBook Air from 2020 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2020 are the only Mac laptops with the Magic Keyboard. Every other model going back many years comes with the butterfly keyboard.

Butterfly keyboard should have died years ago

The MacBook butterfly keyboard is thinner, but less reliable.
The MacBook butterfly keyboard is thinner, but less reliable.
Photo: Apple

The MacBook butterfly keyboard serves as an example of how very hard product design can be. The keyboard design needs less space beneath the keys compared to a regular scissor-switch mechanism. Thus it allowed keyboards — and MacBooks themselves — to be thinner. Plus, the mechanism is more responsive to off-center key presses.

Apple’s butterfly keyboard design debuted in the 2015 MacBook. It jumped to the MacBook Pro line in 2016. And then the complaints started. Keys often stopped working when dust or other debris got trapped under them. As repair-assistance firm iFixit noted in 2018, “The basic flaw is that these ultra-thin keys are easily paralyzed by particulate matter. Dust can block the keycap from pressing the switch, or disable the return mechanism.”

To make matters worse, the butterfly mechanism is so delicate it often breaks when attempting to replace key caps. And Apple’s habit of gluing MacBook components together exacerbated the problem. “The keyboard itself can’t simply be swapped out. You also have to replace the glued-in battery, trackpad, and speakers at the same time,” said iFixit.

Apple’s Keyboard Service Program

Sticky/jammed keys didn’t happen immediately, and Apple claims the issue only ever affected a small number of users. Even so, as the lawsuits started to build up, Apple launched a Keyboard Service Program for MacBook and MacBook Pro in 2018, offering free repairs for models going back to 2015.

But the company didn’t stop putting the butterfly keyboard in each and every MacBook Pro and MacBook Air it introduced. It tweaked the sign multiple times, but was forced to keep adding each new model to the repair program. Even into 2019.

Last year, Apple finally introduced the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a scissor-switch mechanism. That’s years after the complaints started to pile up, and about 18 months after multiple lawsuits were filed.

At least the madness has finally stopped. Apple no longer makes any MacBooks with the butterfly keyboard. But that’s likely cold comfort for people who own a Mac laptop with the old design.