But if the rumour and leak mill is to be believed, iTunes’ end is finally nigh. In macOS 10.15 we will finally see a Music.app for Mac. Surprisingly, this new app is said to be based not on the iOS app or a new codebase, but on the venerable iTunes itself.
There will surely be naysayers that claim iTunes should have been tossed entirely. And admittely, if the new Music app ditches iTunes’ interface but can’t cure its deep and baffling love for obtuse modal error dialogs, I too will bemoan its preservation. But arguing for code to be rewritten just because it’s old has never been the right way to build systems that work.
As infuriating as iTunes has become over the years, it remains among the most dependable pieces of software I use. I have seen all of the error messages in Pike’s piece — I laughed pretty hard as I read this one — and preorders are still unreliable, and there’s a dozen other problems that I could list off which you’ve undoubtedly heard of, if not personally experienced. Apple Music support, in particular, is awful. It’s so transparently a webpage that it feels like using an Electron app.
But, even so, I still use iTunes: I still listen to a local library, I still buy music, and I still sync music to my phone with a physical cable like our ancestors once did. I have already expressed my reservations about migrating to anything that is not iTunes; I’m encouraged by the latest rumours that Music for Mac may simply be a re-skinned iTunes without support for non-music things and, hopefully, way better integration of Apple Music.
And if they can clean up the code base at the same time, that would be appreciated, too.
Last week, a California federal judge provided the FTC and Apple with sweet vindication. In a scathing 233-page opinion [PDF], Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Qualcomm’s aggressive licensing tactics had violated American antitrust law.
I read every word of Judge Koh’s book-length opinion, which portrays Qualcomm as a ruthless monopolist. The legal document outlines a nearly 20-year history of overcharging smartphone makers for cellular chips. Qualcomm structured its contracts with smartphone makers in ways that made it almost impossible for other chipmakers to challenge Qualcomm’s dominance. Customers who didn’t go along with Qualcomm’s one-sided terms were threatened with an abrupt and crippling loss of access to modem chips.
Good piece. You [left] out the part where Judge Koh says that she didn’t credit any of the Qualcomm witness testimony because it was not consistent with the contemporaneous documents (i.e. they were all a pack of liars).
This is just a devastating read of the extortionate terms by which Qualcomm operated its FRAND patent portfolio. If this decision withstands Qualcomm’s appeal, it will basically birth a real market for competing cellular chipsets.
“Does this remind you of anything?” Vice reporter William Turton asked in one of Huawei’s retail locations, all of which are blatant knockoffs of Apple Stores, just after visiting Huawei’s campus on which there are replicas of specific European castles and chateaus. Apparently, Huawei invited lots of news organizations, but only Vice showed up, and it was very, very weird. Turton:
While in Hangzhou, we got a text in our WeChat group message at 3AM from a Huawei PR person that said just “help”.
I’m not sure what to make of this, other than that Huawei is very comfortable with their own absurdity and nonsense.
3D Touch is a wonderful idea executed poorly, and its replacement on the iPhone XR — what Apple calls “Haptic Touch”, which only works in some of the places 3D Touch does and which is just a standard long press with a bit of haptic feedback — is a muddied and hollow replacement — the La Croix version of 3D Touch.
I would prefer to see improvements to 3D Touch; but, because it hasn’t changed much or been more thoroughly applied in the nearly four years since it was introduced, I think the digital scrap heap is probably best. This rumour, of course, leads to the question of what to do with its dependencies on the iPhone. The biggest question, for me, is what happens to notifications: since they were adjusted in iOS 10 to make use of 3D Touch, they’ve never felt at home on non-3D Touch devices.
Apple is now experiencing meteoric growth on its streaming music platform, Apple Music. But that growth is directly impacting Apple’s old-line downloads store, for obvious reasons. And, ultimately hastening its demise.
Just last week, Apple executive Jimmy Iovine pointed to a shutdown when ‘people stop buying’. Now, sources inside the company are pointing to a firm date for a planned shutdown of the iTunes music download store. Earlier, these same sources pointed to an ‘early 2019’ shutdown, though internal roadmaps now include a March 31st, 2019 phase-out of the service.
It is the last week of May and you can still buy music on iTunes. Shocking that this rumour didn’t pan out, I know.
I mention this not to be a jerk to Resnikoff, but because screenshots leaked to Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac show a Music app that, with the little bit shown, does not have a visible section for purchasing, which reminded me of this rumour. Maybe the iTunes Store will be more fully integrated within Music, so an option to buy music could appear next to the option to add it to your library; or, perhaps iTunes Store purchases are relegated to the iTunes app and it is, indeed, slowly phased out. That would be a shame for me because I am one of those weird people who likes to buy music; also, I really don’t like DRM.
But, so far, there’s little to indicate that the iTunes Store is dead, even though March came and went.
Apple has been in the news at several points this year due to claims that its App Store practices are monopolistic. First, Spotify filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission, then more recently, the US Supreme Court ruled that an antitrust lawsuit against Apple could proceed, setting the stage for potential future battles in this space.
Today Apple has launched a new page on its website defending its App Store practices and sharing the values that lie at the core of the Store.
Coincidentally, Mark Gurman of Bloomberg interviewed Apple’s former senior director of app review Phillip Shoemaker for a podcast that, I’m sure, will soon be entered into evidence in Apple’s antitrust cases:
Shoemaker also spoke about Apple not approving the Google Voice calling service in the early days of the iPhone. He said there was concern inside Apple that companies like Google or Facebook could create a slew of apps that would replace core iPhone functions.
“That was a real thing. I mean the fear that somebody would come along, a Facebook, a Google, whomever and wipe off and remove all of our items,” he said. “Once they started using these other apps, they’d be thinking more about Google now.” Ultimately, Google Voice and similar third-party calling services were approved for Apple’s App Store.
Apple highlights competing apps on their new App Store principles page, but none of these apps can be set as a default.1 Another difference is that some APIs are only available to Apple. Expect to hear these and other differences as these legal cases roll on.
Although, I have found that you can override some Siri commands. For example, if I ask my phone “what’s the weather like?”, Carrot will respond instead of the standard weather app — sometimes. It’s not reliable. ↩︎
That’s it; that’s the extent of the updates. It has the same display size as the iPhone 5, the same camera that was in the iPad Air 2, and comes in the same colours as it has for years.
My first assumption was that this was an easy update so that iOS 13 could phase out support for A8-equipped devices. But I’m not so sure about that, given that the iPad Mini and iPod Touch models that were shipping just a few months ago both used the A8. Mind you, if those products were updated more frequently, this wouldn’t be an issue.
It’s 3 a.m. Do you know what your iPhone is doing?
Mine has been alarmingly busy. Even though the screen is off and I’m snoring, apps are beaming out lots of information about me to companies I’ve never heard of. Your iPhone probably is doing the same — and Apple could be doing more to stop it.
On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.
And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address — once every five minutes.
Of course, when you click to read this article, you’ll communicate with twenty-five other domains that will pilfer information like your full IP address and other unique identifiers, any of which can be tied back to your name or email address with little effort. If you’re using Safari, though, you’ll have some protection in the form of Intelligent Tracking Prevention; you may also use content blockers with your browser. I wish there were something like ITP across iOS. Even if Apple were to do a better job of policing the App Store and prevent unnecessary trackers in apps, many developers would find a way around those rules.
Update: This paragraph is key:
Yet very few apps I found using third-party trackers disclosed the names of those companies or how they protect my data. And what good is burying this information in privacy policies, anyway? What we need is accountability.
Adequate disclosure cannot be left up to developers, many of which will ignore that rule — either because they are bad actors deliberately exploiting users, or because they are ashamed of their anti-privacy practices. That shame, by the way, is a great indicator that bad choices are being made.
Anyway, full disclosure needs to be mandated by the system in much the same way the camera cannot be used without the user’s permission. Unfortunately, those permission dialogs are already overwhelming, and I suspect many users don’t fully read them before granting permission.
Add one more onto your tally of stories about Apple and privacy that use a photo of that Las Vegas billboard from CES. ↩︎
Apple granted Andrew Griffin of the Independent interview time with executives — including Craig Federighi — and access to their testing facilities, as they explained their privacy and security model. I appreciated Federighi’s reaction to the recent emphasis on privacy by Google and Facebook. But this, I think, is something of a dodge:
Federighi says that the location data is stored in matters less when the amount of information collected is minimised, and any that is is stored in ways that stop people from prying into it.
“Step one, of course, is the extent that all of our data minimisation techniques, and our keeping data on device and protecting devices from external access – all of these things mean that that data isn’t in any cloud in the first place to be accessed by anyone,” he says. By not collecting data, there is no data for officials in China or anywhere else to read or abuse, Apple claims.
This claim goes uncontested by Griffin, but it’s wrong. All iCloud data created by Chinese users is stored in China; even the iCloud user agreement for Chinese users is between the user and GCBD, not the user and Apple. Also, Apple’s software actively encourages customers to use iCloud services from a few moments after they power up a device for the first time. It is therefore misleading, at best, to state that Apple collects less data. The company may not collect behavioural data to the same extent as its competitors, but that does not apply to user-provided data.
The next paragraph is similarly misleading:
What’s more, Federighi argues that because the data is encrypted, even if it was intercepted – even if someone was actually holding the disk drives that store the data itself – it couldn’t be read. Only the two users sending and receiving iMessages can read them, for example, so the fact they are sent over a Chinese server should be irrelevant if the security works. All they should be able to see is a garbled message that needs a special key to be unlocked.
End-to-end encryption that allows decryption only by the sending and receiving parties is not universally applied to data stored in iCloud. While iCloud data is stored in encrypted formats, the vast majority of the keys are held by Apple and those files can be decrypted by request. Again, this claim is not subjected to further questioning in this story.
Update: After re-reading this, it’s clear that my disputes are with the reporter’s explanations, not Federighi’s. For example, in the second quote, there is no quote from anyone at Apple, and Griffin seems confused by the different kinds of encryption that are possible. In the first quote, Griffin is overly reductive.
Mark Scott, Laurens Cerulus, and Steven Overly, Politico:
Big fines and sweeping enforcement actions have been largely absent, as under-resourced European regulators struggle to define their mission — and take time to build investigations that will likely end up in court.
New forms of data collection, including Facebook’s reintroduction of its facial recognition technology in Europe and Google’s efforts to harvest information on third-party websites, have been given new leases on life under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.
Smaller firms — whose fortunes were of special concern to the framers of the region’s privacy revamp — also have suffered from the relatively high compliance costs and the perception, at least among some investors, that they can’t compete with Silicon Valley’s biggest names.
I’m not surprised by this, and I don’t view this as an indication that GDPR is unsuccessful. For one thing, establishing cases against larger and more complex tech firms is necessarily going to take more time. For another, it isn’t a bad thing that smaller companies are collecting less data as a result of compliance costs. Just because they’re not Google or Facebook, that doesn’t mean that a smaller company should be collecting huge data profiles on individuals. It is, of course, worrying that the side effect of this is to concentrate data collection with the biggest and most influential players; but, then, we circle back to the first point that it takes more time to build cases against bigger players.
The most alarming aspect of GDPR is, weirdly enough, the effect it’s having in the United States. Mark Scott on Twitter:
But what I find the most fascinating is what happened in Washington State. There, rules that specifically name-checked Europe’s [privacy] stance narrowly failed to pass in late April, despite heavy lobbying by industry (@microsoft, ahem) in favor of them.
US tech companies in favor of European-style privacy rules? I hear you ask. Well, yes. But it’s more complicated — and shows both how Europe’s standards are both now global and the straw man used to hobble other privacy efforts.
Whereas in Europe, [people] are automatically opted out of their data being collected unless they give consent, the Washington State rules, by default, gave companies the right to collect such digital information — remember, these rules supposedly were copied from those of the EU.
This isn’t the fault of GDPR rules, but the way that they have been manipulated by tech companies wary of other governments mandating opt-in consent. By that metric, then, GDPR has been quite effective: the idea that it could be a worldwide model scares the shit out of big industry players, and they’re doing everything they can to combat opt-in requirements.
The new nylon switch covers are curious, but I’m particularly interested in the apparent difference in the metal dome switches in this model. It would make sense that they could be a primary culprit for the failures in previous models: they physically activate the key press, which would correlate with a higher failure rate for keys pressed more often.
Of course, that doesn’t resolve dust ingress issues that are directly related to the low travel distance for these keys. But at least a materials failure may no longer be an issue. If I were in the market for a new computer, I’m still not sure I’d trust these. Including them in the keyboard repair program — which is basically four years of AppleCare solely for the keyboard — is a comforting measure that, yes, you can buy these Macs without worrying that you’ll have to pay $800 in a year for a full top case replacement because your space bar is stuck. Still, a no-cost repair is no replacement for a reliable keyboard.
Geoff Colvin, in a longform profile of AT&T and its CEO Randall Stephenson for Fortune:
The grand vision begins with combining all the major elements of the media and telecom businesses, which no company has ever done before. Time Warner’s film and TV studios make some of the most successful and honored entertainment anywhere. Its cable networks — including TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, and Turner Classic Movies — are distribution powerhouses. DirecTV carries those networks and others into homes through its satellite system. Add in AT&T’s wireless and landline customers, and Stephenson boasts that AT&T has “170 million distribution points we can push this through.”
With such a combination of media assets, the theory goes, AT&T can achieve unprecedented advantages. It can differentiate its fast-commoditizing wireless network by offering customers deals on its proprietary content. It can expose its content to vast audiences through all its networks. Because it collects staggering volumes of customer data through its wired, wireless, and satellite networks, it can enable advertisers to target their messages with new precision and, in some cases, even track customers who have seen specific ads and thus gauge how the ads performed — services for which advertisers will gladly pay a big premium.
The immediate next step in the transformation, likely the biggest and most visible step, will be to introduce a video-on-demand Internet streaming service — a Netflix competitor — in this year’s fourth quarter. AT&T says the new service eventually will include original content, HBO, movies from multiple studios, and library content from HBO and Warner Bros.
Who, apart from AT&T shareholders and executives, finds this advantageous? The company’s deep vertical integration and sheer scale are a monument to ineffectual and consumer-unfriendly American antitrust laws. And that’s without getting to the wildly invasive advertising plan:
Adding strength to the whole proposition is AT&T’s unique aggregate customer data trove and its value in addressable advertising over DirecTV and AT&T’s direct-to-consumer streaming services; ads can also be directed less precisely through the former Turner networks. “Say you and your neighbor are both DirecTV customers and you’re watching the same live program at the same time,” says Brian Lesser, who oversees the vast data-crunching operation that supports this kind of advertising at AT&T. “We can now dynamically change the advertising. Maybe your neighbor’s in the market for a vacation, so they get a vacation ad. You’re in the market for a car, you get a car ad. If you’re watching on your phone, and you’re not at home, we can customize that and maybe you get an ad specific to a car retailer in that location.”
This is very creepy. It’s at least as invasive as what big tech companies like Google and Facebook do, but telecom conglomerates like AT&T aren’t getting the same negative press. They’re only allowed to do this because the Republican-led FCC, in 2017, struck down reasonable privacy restrictions that were to be enforced on telecom firms — companies like AT&T and Verizon are uniquely positioned to have what is likely the most comprehensive picture of users’ digital lives.
If this was a story about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, this scheme would cause a week-long outrage cycle. It is outrageous, especially when you consider that AT&T also routinely hands over customer information to the government, is under investigation for illegally selling customer location data to shady third parties, and is generally about as protective of your data as a hotel front desk guarding a bowl of mints.
AT&T can claim up and down that it’s asked for permission to use customer information to do this, but there is simply no possible way the average customer has ever even read their AT&T contracts, let alone puzzled out that they’re signing up to be permanently tracked and influenced by targeted media in this way. People are already convinced that Facebook is secretly listening to them through their phones; if you explicitly offered them the choice of AT&T tracking everything they watch and everywhere they go, it’s a safe bet that they would say no.
I would bet that as well; but, I also have a nagging worry that many consumers are becoming nihilistic about their privacy. People care, but I don’t think they feel like they have any control. Weak regulators are enabling this disconcerting direction.
Nothing in our settlement stops us from continuing to report on Shiva Ayyadurai’s claims to have invented email, and given that Ayyadurai has now fashioned himself a First Amendment freedom fighter, I am hopeful that he will be supportive of our use of our free expression rights to respond to his “response.”
What follows is a several-thousand word document on the history of email and its inventors. Masnick’s research indicates that Ayyadurai’s own recounting is internally flawed, and that no part of his claim to be the “inventor of email” withstands scrutiny.
Today, after more than four years of work by a small and talented team, Panic is extremely excited to introduce Playdate, a brand new handheld gaming system.
Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.
There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.
This looks completely wonderful and very, very Panic. They’re releasing it early next year for $149 USD. I’ve never had a handheld gaming system before — other than, like, an iOS device — but I think I might now.
The source, who discussed Actionable Insights on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press, explained that Facebook has offered the service to carriers and phone makers ostensibly of free charge, with access to Actionable Insights granted as a sweetener for advertising relationships. According to the source, the underlying value of granting such gratis access to Actionable Insights in these cases isn’t simply to help better service cell customers with weak signals, but also to ensure that telecoms and phone makers keep buying more and more carefully targeted Facebook ads. It’s exactly this sort of quasi-transactional data access that’s become a hallmark of Facebook’s business, allowing the company to plausibly deny that it ever sells your data while still leveraging it for revenue. Facebook may not be “selling” data through Actionable Insights in the most baldly literal sense of the word — there’s no briefcase filled with hard drives being swapped for one containing cash — but the relationship based on spending and monetization certainly fits the spirit of a sale. A Facebook spokesperson declined to answer whether the company charges for Actionable Insights access.
The confidential Facebook document provides an overview of Actionable Insights and espouses its benefits to potential corporate users. It shows how the program, ostensibly created to help improve underserved cellular customers, is pulling in far more data than how many bars you’re getting. According to one portion of the presentation, the Facebook mobile app harvests and packages eight different categories of information for use by over 100 different telecom companies in over 50 different countries around the world, including usage data from the phones of children as young as 13. These categories include use of video, demographics, location, use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, personal interests, device information, and friend homophily, an academic term of art. A 2017 article on social media friendship from the Journal of the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology defined “homophily” in this context as “the tendency of nodes to form relations with those who are similar to themselves.” In other words, Facebook is using your phone to not only provide behavioral data about you to cellphone carriers, but about your friends as well.
Among the most vastly underreported stories in tech is Facebook’s unique ability to create deep associative data between users and those who did not consent to their privacy-invasive practices. It doesn’t matter if you do not use Facebook’s products; if any of your friends do, Facebook still knows a lot about you.
“The success of Uber Eats, DoorDash and others suggests there is a demographic shift towards consumption of prepared meals at home,” said Michael Ronen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “The time is now to try and stand up supply that is more efficient against that demand.”
Venture capitalists have all aligned on the best solution: kitchens that only serve delivery customers, known as “cloud”, “ghost” or “dark” kitchens, that use a combination of advanced food preparation, underused real estate and algorithm-driven optimisation to lower overheads and increase output.
There are companies that build these ghost kitchens, but they can spring up anywhere. A single storefront in strip mall here in Calgary is the address of thirteen restaurants, none of which you can actually eat at.
It is worth questioning, then, just what a restaurant is. Is it merely a kitchen with some chairs and tables attached to it, or is it more than that? Delivery-only restaurants are not a new thing, but they’re easier to promote as the use of food delivery apps increases.
I don’t think these restaurants replace sit-in dining. There will always be a market for a more formal dining room. And I don’t think they replace fast food restaurants, either, which serve impulse buys in person — something which these faceless kitchens can’t support. The optimistic result is that these restaurants will continue to rise and be an alternative as we increasingly treat cooking as a service. I worry, though, that the more likely scenario is that companies like Uber and Doordash will compete with restaurants directly.
See Also: Alexis C. Madrigal writing earlier this year in the Atlantic about the servant economy.
My favourite products and services that Apple has done all sort of boil down to a single idea: they resolve the most complex near-universal frustrations through simplicity, elegance, and refinement. That sounds more hoity-toity than I intended, but it’s pretty accurate. You can associate this with the iPhone or the Mac or any of the other painfully trite examples, but I have my own pet favourite thing they’ve done in the last few years. They’ve practically gotten rid of passwords in two ways:
Your face, fingerprint, or device proximity is used to determine your identity. Rather than something you know, it’s something you are. If you use a recent Mac, iOS device, or Apple Watch, you can go password-free to unlock.
Apple can’t unilaterally replace passwords for the web and in apps, so they’ve done the next best thing by generating secure passwords, storing them, syncing them between devices, and making it all work with the face and fingerprint stuff above.1
This is reading the room perfectly. Not only does it resolve something irritating and complex, it does it in a near-seamless way and it encourages people to buy more Apple hardware, which ought to make the company’s stockholders very happy.
Many of the products that Siegler lists off don’t really do any of this. Not everything they release needs to be iPhone-calibre because I don’t think there’s likely to be another product of the iPhone’s calibre. It is likely the most successful manufactured good of all time.
The room is excited about Macs that are powerful and have bulletproof reliability. The room has been asking for a better Apple Store servicing experience. The room is looking for a sense that these products add up to something. There are indications that sometimes make me question what room Apple believes they are in.
Apple was not the first company to have a fingerprint scanner, nor a facial recognition system, nor a password manager. But they were likely the first and have done the best at integrating all of these things at the system level across multiple platforms. ↩︎
But of course the biggest issue with these keyboards is reliability. Will this updated mechanism fix or at least greatly reduce the number of reliability problems? Only time will tell, but I’m cautiously optimistic. Apple didn’t have to say anything at all about this mechanical tweak. I mean, if they hadn’t said anything at all about the keyboards, we’d all be asking about it, but Apple often ignores questions it doesn’t want to answer. The folks I spoke to today seem confident these updated keyboards will prove significantly more reliable.
I’ve given this thing a little more thought because, as I wrote earlier, the only thing that gives us any indication that Apple has fixed the keyboard this time is their word. But that, I think, is itself newsworthy.
When Apple made keyboard tweaks last year, they insisted that the new silicone layer underneath all the keys was merely to make for quieter typing and had nothing to do with reliability. It doesn’t matter that their own servicing manual gave up its intended purpose; publicly, their stance was only that it was a quieter keyboard. This year, however, Apple directly addressed keyboard reliability in their conversations with media. Even though they didn’t mention keyboards at all in their press release, I still see it as a noteworthy acknowledgement.
Many companies are only starting to come to grips with privacy thanks to new privacy regimes like the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. And when you come to grips with a regulation, it typically looks a lot like compliance. “What boxes do I need to check in order to be compliant?” you might ask yourself. And once you’re compliant, you’re Good Enough™ and you move onto the next problem.
While taking a compliance-driven approach might feel like the equivalent of hitting an “easy” button, there’s one big problem: It leaves gaps in your org’s privacy posture that you’re probably not even aware of. The “compliance = security” mindset has been a problem for years, and industry analysts and journalists love reminding us after every breach that simply being compliant isn’t enough.
Turns out that privacy is no different.
NIST has made the current draft available (PDF) for feedback. It isn’t the easiest document to read, but it transforms the thinking around privacy from compliance to risk management. That’s a fundamental and critical shift that ought to encourage a greater appreciation by small- and medium-sized companies when it comes to privacy.
Jason Snell was briefed on the new MacBook Pro models, which feature some nice spec bumps and, more importantly, enhancements to the keyboards:
Apple says these new models also feature a fourth version of the butterfly keyboard design, in response to customer complaints that the keyboard would end up in a sad state where key presses were ignored or doubled. While Apple is quick to say that the vast majority of MacBook Pro customers haven’t experienced any keyboard issues, the company still keeps tweaking this design. It claims that the change made in these new MacBook Pro models will substantially reduce the incidence of ignored or doubled characters.
A post earlier this month from a Reddit user claiming to be an Apple authorized technician said that only some of the failures they were seeing were dust-related. They said that failures were more frequently found on computers belonging to heavy keyboard users — programmers, journalists, and students — and that failures were more frequently found with the space bar and vowel keys.
That all suggests that dust ingress was something Apple tried to rule out last year with the silicone membrane, and that it was ineffective because it was likely a fragility issue with the keyboards’ construction or materials. Dieter Bohn of the Verge says that Apple told them that they had, indeed, changed the keyboard’s build.
Beyond that, Apple is also seeking to reassure its customers that they shouldn’t avoid buying a Mac laptop out of fear of having keyboard problems. As was reported last month, Apple is working to shorten the time it takes to repair keyboards in Apple Store. And today it’s extending its Keyboard Service Program to cover all laptops with butterfly keyboards, including not just these new MacBook Pros, but also all of its laptops released in 2018, including the new MacBook Air. That program is separate from the standard Apple warranty and covers keyboard repairs for four years after the first retail sale of the laptop.
Some current MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar and 15-inch customers that bring in their keyboards for repair will actually have their keyboards replaced with ones that have these new materials, Apple says. That will only happen for MacBooks that have the third-generation butterfly keyboard today: the 2018 models of the MacBook Pro and the new MacBook Air.
These are promising steps towards rebuilding trust that Apple actually cares about the time, cost, and effort incurred by customers to fix their laptops. Of course, I have little reason beyond Apple’s word to believe that this time these keyboards do not suck. We will see, of course, and I’m sure that anyone with a 2018 MacBook Pro or Air is probably breathing a sigh of relief that their keyboards will be replaced the revised design if and when they break.
Yet, these actions are no substitute for having a reliable keyboard. As far as I can tell, it is less a question of if and more a question of when any of Apple’s computers equipped with the “butterfly” keyboards will break.
Also, even though this keyboard can be substituted into Apple’s 2018 models, there’s no indication today that they’re shipping newly-built units from the factory with the new keyboard. Nor, it should be said, have the 13-inch non-Touch Bar model of the MacBook Pro or the 12-inch MacBook been updated with even the membrane-equipped keyboard.
In a nut, it is comforting to see that they appear to be taking seriously the repairs needed for butterfly keyboard-equipped MacBooks, and have updated the design to try to make the new ones more reliable. But that’s not enough. It isn’t too much to expect that the keyboard in a computer should not have design flaws that cause it to be likely unreliable over a multiyear lifespan of heavy use, and the MacBook line will not have a good keyboard until that baseline is reached.
Update: Apple has also started a service program for MacBook Pro models exhibiting the so-called “stage light” or “flexgate” — ugh — issue. Oddly, even though reports said that this issue could impact any 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro model, Apple’s service program is only for 2016 13-inch units. If you’ve already paid for a repair, you can enquire about a refund.