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The MacBook Pro’s keyboard design is far too unreliable

Published Apr 30th, 2018 6:38PM EDT

Back in late 2016, Apple finally unveiled a long-awaited redesign to the company’s MacBook Pro lineup. Of course, the most significant addition to Apple’s flagship notebook was the Touch Bar, an OLED display with controls that dynamically adjust depending upon whatever app happens to be open.

Beyond that, Apple’s new MacBook Pro also introduced support for Touch ID and a much larger trackpad, all housed within a much more compact form factor. Additionally, Apple graced its updated MacBook Pro with the same butterfly keyboard design it originally introduced on the 12-inch MacBook back in 2015.

Apple not only likes to boast that its butterfly keyboard is 40% thinner than a traditional keyboard, it also claims that its much more stable, reliable, all while providing users with “greater precision” no matter where a user happens to strike a particular key.

Actual MacBook Pro owners, however, haven’t taken to the new keyboard design with much enthusiasm. On the contrary, many are of the position that the keyboard design itself is a huge mistake that Apple would be well-advised to fix it immediately.

The crux of the complaints surrounding the MacBook Pro’s keyboard is that it’s simply too prone to failure and is, in a word, unreliable. Indeed, there are no shortage of reports surrounding MacBook Pro owners who were dismayed to find that their keyboards started acting up for the most bizarre reasons.

As a prime example, Casey Johnston a few months ago detailed how a malfunctioning spacebar prompted him to have his MacBook Pro evaluated three times at Apple’s Genius Bar.

“Maybe it’s a piece of dust,” the Genius had offered. The previous times I’d been to the Apple Store for the same computer with the same problem — a misbehaving keyboard — Geniuses had said to me these exact same nonchalant words, and I had been stunned into silence, the first time because it seemed so improbable to blame such a core problem on such a small thing, and the second time because I couldn’t believe the first time I was hearing this line that it was not a fluke. But this time, the third time, I was ready. “Hold on,” I said. “If a single piece of dust lays the whole computer out, don’t you think that’s kind of a problem?”

Unfortunately, tales similar to the one Johnston articulated above aren’t hard to find. In fact, Apple even has a support document on its website which advises MacBook Pro users with wonky keyboards to clean it with compressed air.

In light of that, AppleInsider is reporting that the keyboards on Apple’s revamped MacBook Pro models are twice as likely to fail as keyboards which incorporate a more traditional scissor switch design.

Following anecdotal reports of a keyboard more prone to failure than in previous years, AppleInsider has collected service data for the first year of release of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 MacBook Pros, with an additional slightly shorter data set for the 2017 model year given that it hasn’t been available for a year yet.

Not including any Touch Bar failures, the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard is failing twice as often in the first year of use as the 2014 or 2015 MacBook Pro models, and the 2017 is better, but not by a lot.

Compounding matters is that MacBook Pro models with the new keyboard design are more likely to experience recurring problems after being repaired. For something as integral to the computing experience as the keyboard, this is certainly not a good look for Apple. Indeed, many are of the mind that Apple’s misstep with the MacBook Pro keyboard stems from the company’s seeming obsession with valuing thinness above all else. Moreover, if you’re spending around $2,500 for a new laptop, at the very least, you should have the confidence in knowing that the keyboard will not malfunction every few months.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.