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.