Heat, not dust, the enemy of Apple’s butterfly keyboard design?

“Apple’s divisive butterfly keyboard mechanism has been back in the news following Joanna Stern’s Wall Street Journal article. Stern contends that Apple’s decision to persevere with the new mechanism is ruining customer experience and urges Apple to ‘stop prioritizing thinness over usability’ and change the design of their keyboard mechanisms,” Chris Langley writes for Medium. “Stern’s article was typically cheeky. And it received a typically blasé response from Apple’s Marketing team. However, like much of the commotion online about the failure rate of these keyboards, Stern’s article focuses, in the main, on how dust and debris can enter the keyboard’s delicate butterfly mechanism and prevent it from working properly.”

“[Dust] is not the only – or even the most significant – cause of these keyboard failures. Something far bigger and far more symptomatic of Apple’s lack of focus on the Mac is to blame here,” Langley writes. “All of the keys that have become damaged – until today – have come from the top row. Specifically, the top left (around ‘QWERTY’). This is precisely the area under which the MacBook Pro’s processor lives. On warm days or occasions when the system fan is spinning (which for me is very rare) and the top of the machine is warm to the touch, the top row of keys is especially ‘clicky’ – the usual sign of an impending failure. Other keys then stick.”

In Apple's latest attempt at a "butterfly" keyboard, dust largely stays around the exterior of the new silicone shield, but particles can still make their way past the barrier over time negatively affecting usability. (Photo: iFixit)
In Apple’s latest attempt at a “butterfly” keyboard, dust largely stays around the exterior of the new silicone shield, but particles can still make their way past the barrier over time negatively affecting usability. This shield won’t help alleviate any thermal issues, though.(Photo: iFixit)

My argument is that any increase in heat from the CPU – no matter how small – runs the risk of heating the plastic nubs on the nearest keycap and then making them brittle,” Langley writes. “Heat is the enemy not dust. The reason the ‘E’, ‘R’ and ‘T’ keys become jammed on many machines (including Stern’s) is that they are the ones closest to the CPU that don’t get adequately cooled by the fan… The quest for thinness has produced a situation where the processor is too close to a delicate keyboard mechanism and cannot be cooled. No amount of rubber gaskets or revised butterfly switches is going to change that.”

Read more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Told you so:

The law of diminishing returns can also be applied to industrial design. Apple’s eternal quest for thinness eventually runs into issues such as bulging camera assemblies, battery capacity, strength (breakability), etc. – is Apple’s quest for thinness now bordering on the quixotic?

So, is it “you can never be too thin” or is it “thin enough is thin enough?”MacDailyNews, December 21, 2015

Hey, Jony: Enough with the thin.

Everything is thin enough. Sometimes too thin. Thinner isn’t the answer to everything, nor is thinness intrinsic to good design. We’d gladly take a bit more robustness and battery life over more unnecessary thinness, thanks.MacDailyNews, June 25, 2018

The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks – April 2, 2019
Apple apologizes for ongoing reliability problems with its MacBook ‘butterfly’ keyboards – March 27, 2019
WSJ: Apple has fixed their butterfly keyboard, but it’s only for pros – for now – July 23, 2018
Teardown of MacBook Pro’s new butterfly keyboard reveals improved protection against dust and debris – July 19, 2018
Conflicting information distributed inside Apple about reason for silicone MacBook Pro keyboard membrane – July 19, 2018
Keyboard shootout: 2018 vs. 2017 MacBook Pro butterfly keyboards compared – July 17, 2018
So, about Apple’s new MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard – July 17, 2018
How Apple is fixing faulty keyboards in their new MacBook Pro models – July 16, 2018
Two things seem obvious about Apple’s MacBook Pro keyboard – July 13, 2018
Apple’s revised MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard: Quieter may not be enough – July 13, 2018
Apple says new MacBook Pro keyboard won’t fix sticky key issue – July 12, 2018
Apple’s new 2018 MacBook Pro models now available with revised butterfly keyboards, much faster performance possible – July 12, 2018


      1. The butterfly keyboard is garbage People are right in giving up all hell. Mine has been fixed twice in 2 to 3 months and I absolutely hate the machine and regret having purchased it. I am in complete discussed with Apple over this purchase and I will never buy another MacBook Pro Again until they go back to the old keyboard there is no need for what they did

  1. Apple design and quality is worrying me. Any young engineer should know better than to make a keyboard that isn’t durable enough to withstand everything from dust to hot tea.

    who to blame? Ive’s senseless thin design, the managerial inability to let engineers do what they do best and overrule bad fasion design, or incompetent engineers?

    I fear Apple has all three problems, badly.

    Holding my breath for a proper Mac Pro that isn’t crippled and doesn’t cost more than a sportscar.

  2. This is one of two main reasons I have not yet bought a new MBP to replace my rMBP from 2012 (!!- almost 7 years and still going strong). The other reason is cost: cost of the machine itself plus all the dongles and docks I will need to make this useable at home, at work and in the plane (it would probably cost me around $4,500 to replace my current rMBP and that’s a LOT of money- at least for me).


  3. Apple desperately needs to win back the faithful. The best way (but by no means cheap) is a recall of every MBP with butterfly keys and replace them with a keyboard that can stand up to the dust and heat. That would go a long way in reaffirming faith in the company.

    To be honest, anyone who buys an Apple laptop with a butterfly keyboard is going to regret it (unless they never use it so much it heats up). Apple is just asking for a lawsuit here.

    1. Have a 2016 MBP with butterfly kb, so far, no issues, but…

      I immediately bought a keyboard Ghostcover to protect it.
      I use a desktop keyboard (from my old cheese grater MacPro) at work 5 days a week, really like the wider spacing and numeric keypad.

      I really don’t mind the feel of the kb at all, just a little noisy.

  4. And please fix the trackpad to be less sensitive to unintentional input when I’m typing! On the 2018 MBP 15” the trackpad is so large my thumbs touch it constantly when trying to touch type causing the cursor to be relocated to various points in the document and thus create a new insertion point for whatever I’m typing. It is maddening. Come on Apple! If I’m actively typing, the trackpad input needs to be turned off until the typing stops and intentional trackpad input is sensed. If they can’t figure out how to do this, then shrink the trackpad enough to give my thumbs a place to rest. Also, if they can’t get even this right…self-driving cars? No way!

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