The Butterfly Keyboard and Expensive Repairs

Kyle Wiens of iFixIt:

Which brings us back to the point. Why did it take so long, and so many complaints, for the repair program to be put in place? Why do you need to send your MacBook Pro away for upwards of a week for a repair? That’s easy: because Apple made their product hard for them to repair, too. Apple’s new warranty program is going to cost them a lot of money.

Apple’s profit on every machine that they warranty under this new program has been decimated. There is a real business impact caused by unrepairable product design. Samsung recently had a similar experience with the Note7. Yes, the battery problem was a manufacturing defect. But if the battery had been easy to replace, they could have recalled just the batteries instead of the entire phone. It was a $5 billion design mistake.

But this isn’t just about warranty cost—there is a loud outcry for reliable, long-lasting, upgradeable machines. Just look at the market demand for the six-year-old 2012 MacBook Pro — the last fully upgradeable notebook Apple made. I use one myself, and I love it.

Notebooks have long been less modular than desktops. When the Nvidia GPU failed in my mid-2007 MacBook Pro about ten years ago, Apple had to replace the entire logic board. Since then, their notebooks have become increasingly sealed — first, by placing the battery behind the screwed-on bottom plate, then soldering the RAM to the board, and finally by making the SSD also part of the board.

A couple of friends were mentioning in a small Slack room that they had some warranty-covered service done recently — one with a MacBook Pro, and one with a MacBook Air. In both cases, Apple replaced nearly all of the parts of the computer without doing a whole-machine swap.

Stories like these, and especially this new keyboard replacement program, make me wonder if this trend is being reconsidered. Of course, there haven’t been widespread complaints similar to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard about the SSD or RAM failing, or about the battery not being removable. Perhaps these failures are a relatively small, somewhat expensive step back after years of moving forward. If anything about the design of Apple’s portables is being reconsidered, though, I hope that it isn’t just the financials that would be the primary factor; likewise, if no such discussions are happening.