What is Going on With MacBook Pro Keyboards?

What good is a computer you can’t type on? No matter how elegantly designed the internal circuitry may be, a laptop that can’t understand your commands is basically a shiny paperweight. So it’s maddening to read that with Apple’s latest MacBook Pro, the keyboard, the most critical part of a laptop computer, has severe problems.

In The Outline, Casey Johnson shared her frustrations with faulty Macbook Pro keyboards in a series of articles. She wrote that when her keyboard broke, Apple technicians said the problem may have been caused by a piece of dust. Her MacBook was brand new, but may have been sabotaged by a single piece of dust. That’s dust, the substance that’s one degree above nothing at all in terms of material existence.

Evidently the spacebar is the most apt to have problems. Considering that the spacebar is the most-often used key on the keyboard, that’s pretty serious. Spacebar problems are so frustrating and common that the YouTube video for the song “I’m Pressing The Spacebar and Nothing is Happening” has been viewed almost 150,000 times.

With the newest MacBook Pro model, the keyboard problem appears to have grown exponentially worse. Appleinsider found that based on service data from a number of Apple Stores and authorized repair centers, new 2016 MacBook Pro requiring warranty service were twice as likely to have problems with keyboards as models from 2014 and 2015.

The resilience of the keyboard is a casualty of the desire for a sleeker laptop design. MacBooks have become slimmer and lighter with each iteration. New models forgo large but useful components of old machines, like the USB port, to allow for a sleeker profile. But while the USB port can be outfitted with an adapter, keyboards don’t have an obvious fix. A couple years ago, Apple redesigned their keyboards to have the keys sit butterfly switches, intersecting pieces of plastic that sit low in the keyboard housing. They require little pressure but the sensitivity comes at a price of extreme fragility. As Johnson noted, they are supported by four tiny threads of brittle plastic, each no larger or sturdier than an insect leg.

The butterfly keys are economically sized, which allows room for other components and bringing down the overall weight of the computer. Supposedly, the lighter keys require less pressure, which enables faster typing.

Writing in Ars Technica, Samuel Axon says the problem for consumers with the MacBook Pro keyboards lies with the MacBook Pro’s design. Fixing just a single key requires replacing the entire keyboard apparatus, part of the metal enclosure and other components.

Apple users are rallying against the keyboards. Nearly 15,000 people have signed a Change.org petition requesting that Apple to recall the MacBook Pro and replace with a more reliable keyboard.

Apple hasn’t responded to the petition despite its popularity. Maybe their public relations team’s laptops are all in the shop.