Regarding That Ostensibly ‘Small Number of Customers’ Reporting Problems With Their MacBook Keyboards

David Heinemeier Hansson, writing on Basecamp’s Signal v. Noise blog:

Apple keep insisting that only a “small number of customers have problems” with the MacBook keyboards. That’s bollocks. This is a huge issue, it’s getting worse not better, and Apple is missing the forest for the trees.

The fact is that many people simply do not contact Apple when their MacBook keyboards fail. They just live with an S key that stutters or a spacebar that intermittently gives double. Or they just start using an external keyboard. Apple never sees these cases, so it never counts in their statistics.

It isn’t news that the butterfly keyboard switches in the post-2015 MacBook line are unreliable to the degree that it has breached a technically-focused audience, recently featuring in a Wall Street Journal article and in commentary from well-known individuals. There’s also plenty of statistical evidence, in the form of Genius Bar repair figures sourced by Apple Insider, to support the widespread understanding that these keyboards suck.

But what’s missing from the numbers Apple Insider published and the general malaise about these keyboards is any understanding of the impact they’re having on otherwise-silent users. Hansson’s piece sheds some light on this, plus a poll he posted on Twitter. As of writing, over 4,600 people have responded: 38% say that their keyboard is perfect, 11% say that they had problems with the keyboard but Apple fixed it, and 51% say that they’re living with their keyboard problems.1 I’m not surprised by that — people who use their laptop a lot, especially for work, cannot just be without their computer for a week or two. It is enormously disruptive.

The thing I keep getting back to in my head is that this is a problem that should not exist. The highlight feature of the next MacBook model should be something like Face ID or being powered by one of Apple’s own kick-ass processors, not a keyboard that hasn’t regressed and now functions correctly. And I understand completely that all tech companies experiment with new and different things. In Yosemite, Apple tried to replace the fine-but-old mDNSResponder with the new-but-flaky discoveryd; that decision was reverted after a year. Apple has now been shipping MacBooks with crappy butterfly keyboards for four years.

The Apple-related story I want to read most of all right now is about how these keyboards came to be, what happened after problems began to show up, and how they kept shipping regardless. My inbox is always open.

  1. Twitter does not publish results until the poll is completed, but you can see the poll’s current state in the page’s source. ↥︎