Apple has given up on the butterfly keyboard, a stupid, environmentally disastrous and life-ruining “innovation” that made the last two iterations of the MacBook Pro (and recent models of MacBook and MacBook Air) expensive pieces of garbage. Thus ends a years-long nightmare for both Apple and its customers.
In its place, Apple has announced that its new MacBook Pro will have a “Magic Keyboard” that has scissor keys, like most every laptop keyboard that came before it. “Scissor” and “butterfly” keys refer to the physical mechanism underneath each keycap that register a button press. For years, laptops had scissor switches, which, as my colleague Casey Johnston explained, consist of two crossed pieces of plastic that fold down when pressed.
Scissor switches allow the keys to “travel” a few millimeters down every time they’re pressed. In the interest of shaving off millimeters (or perhaps fractions of millimeters) of thickness from the last two generations of the MacBook Pro, Apple created butterfly switches, which use four more brittle pieces of plastic and allow each key to travel shorter distances when pressed. Butterfly switches result in a less repairable, more fragile keyboard that is unpleasant to type on, because it feels like you’re smashing your fingers against a hard plastic board with little give.
If you’ve bought a new MacBook Pro in the last three years or have at all followed MacBook drama, you’ll have heard that, besides being extremely difficult to repair or replace, butterfly keys are also susceptible to dust, crumbs, and all sorts of debris, which has led to a frustrating typing experience for many people who use them. For example, my MacBook Pro keyboard will often register two or three button presses on four different keys (the spacebar, ‘i,’ ‘p,’ and ‘w’ keys) when I only press them once. Apple described the problem like this: “letters repeat unexpectedly … letters do not appear … keys feel ‘sticky.’”
The new MacBook Pro “features a new Magic Keyboard with a refined scissor mechanism that delivers 1mm of key travel and a stable key feel, as well as an Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a responsive key press,” Apple said in a press release.
The butterfly keyboard is perhaps the greatest design mistake Apple has ever made: It has rendered untold numbers of MacBook Pros completely unusable and eroded consumer trust. Apple had to introduce a “Keyboard Service Program” to replace broken keyboards. Even tweaks to the keyboard on last year’s MacBook Pro could not make butterfly keys work better: The most recent MacBook Pro has the same problems as all the other ones.
Often, “repairing” a MacBook Pro requires literally replacing half of the computer. Apple has never said what happens to MacBook Pros that are returned with broken keyboards. When I asked last year, it suggested it was recycling them but didn’t answer specific questions about how, or which parts get reused.
“The clips themselves are much more fragile than previous models, and if one of those is damaged, it won’t seat properly anymore,” Aaron Dziel, of The Bookyard, which specializes in MacBook keyboard repair, told me last year. “If the mechanism is physically damaged there’s very little you can do to fix it besides swap the top case.”
Hopefully, the new-old scissor switches will fix the problems everyone has had with butterfly switches, and the MacBook Pro can go back to being a viable computer again. Farewell butterfly keys. May we never meet again.
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