Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Credit Is Owed to Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern

Now that Apple’s entire laptop lineup uses keyboards that do not use the problematic butterfly mechanism, I wanted to point out the two articles that did the best job of raising awareness of its flaws.

Casey Johnston defined the genre in 2017 for the Outline (RIP):

Perhaps it’s true that less dirt gets under butterfly switched-keys. But therein lies the problem — when dirt does get in, it cannot get out. A piece of dust is capable of rendering a butterfly switch nonfunctional. The key won’t click, and it won’t register whatever command it’s supposed to be typing. It’s effectively dead until someone can either shake loose the debris trapped under it or blow at the upside-down keyboard Nintendo-cartridge style. Meanwhile, Apple quietly put up a page with instructions expressly to try and help people with dead butterfly switch keys.

The next piece came from Joanna “Stn”, writing in the Wall Street Journal about a year ago:

Nop, I havn’t fogottn how to wit. No did my dito go on vacation.

You s, to sha th pain of using an Appl laptop kyboad that’s faild aft fou months, I could only think of on ida: tak all th bokn ltts out of my column. Thn I alizd that would mak th whol thing unadabl. […]

Why is th baking of my MacBook Ai kyboad so insanly maddning? Lt’s tak a tip down Mmoy Lan…

Stern’s article was the first that included a statement from Apple that publicly acknowledged the issue, quoted here with the full alphabet intact:

“We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.” If you have a problem, contact Apple customer service, he added.

A class-action lawsuit is underway in California; millions of people bought MacBook models equipped with butterfly keyboards and will be hanging onto them for years. Taika Waititi took the time during the press conference for his first Oscar win to talk about how bad the keyboards are. You, reader, know all of this because you follow this stuff closely, just as you know that this problematic keyboard is now a thing of the past. But this will have repetitional repercussions for years to come.

I am sure that there is an interesting story behind why this keyboard shipped in the first place, when Apple began noticing widespread problems, and why it took over three years to revert to a known good keyboard switch.1 There is no doubt that Apple surely recognized problems on its own, but so much credit for raising public awareness of the issues must be given to Johnston and Stern.


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